I was delighted to find myself with a Friday lunchtime slot this half-term having finished up a meeting in the wonderful Roman City of Chester. Being the holidays I had brought Mr R and the little Roblets up for the trip. Unfortunately the weather was pretty grim so the The Roblets had been despatched with spending money into the boutiques in town and I managed to track down Mr R hidden behind a paper in the swanky paneled hush of The Chester Grosvenor. I reckoned we were good for about an hour and half so we took advice from the lovely people at the Grosvenor and tracked over to their affiliated property on the other side of town, Oddfellows.
Hidden behind a Georgian facade, Oddfellows is one of those places that makes you look, and then look again. We arrived a little damp and windswept and I completely missed what the hotel manager was telling me as I tried to take in the utterly eccentric sight of half a dozen vintage typewriters attached to the wall above the concierge’s bomber aircraft wing desk. Oddfellows makes you smile. From the exquisite (gigantic) woodland animal murals adorning the paneled walls of the bar, to the Alice In Wonderland Mad Hatters tea room with table on the ceiling, you feel like you a sharing some kind of marvellous ‘in-joke’ that the folk outside know nothing about.
Inclement though the weather was I couldn’t resist a peek outside at the landscaped secret garden. Covered, heated seating areas are grouped around fireplaces and the garden is crisscrossed with picket fences, garden gnome stools and standard lamps. Mr & Mrs Smith call it “Upscale Wonderland” (Oddfellows is the only hotel they recommend in Cheshire). It’s tricky not to use the word ‘quirky’ at every turn but I am going to attempt not to.
Being a Friday we indulged in two large Bombay Sapphires – expertly mixed by the cocktail bar which is winning awards hand over fist at the moment and getting a name for itself with the Chester younger set. Simon Radley, The Grosvenor’s executive Chef whose Michelin starred restaurant bears his name, has lent said name and expert guidance to the restaurant at Oddfellows – “The Garden by Simon Radley”.
The menu is Mediterranean inspired and excellently priced given the name on the door of the restaurant. Six starters ranging from £7 – £12 and seven mains £12 – £32, meaning you can justify either a light bite or a full on extravagance. Mr R is one of those people that when he sees a particular dish on the menu cannot help himself. With some its Sticky Toffee Pudding. With him it’s Scallops. These were served with Sweet Pomegranate and Picked Baby Vegetables and the look on his face was a bit like the hookah smoking caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. “Plump, juicy, perfect texture, lovely pickles”. He knows about scallops so I trust him.
I had the Seared Yellow Fin Tuna with Cannellini’s Fried Squid and Fennel Press. I was asked by our waiter if I preferred it cooked through rather than seared which I thought a great attention to detail (I didn’t). When it arrived it came with a kind of hot, clear, tomato broth which was poured at the table. The warm, nutty cannellini’s were great choice but it was the delicious fried squid that was the star for me, melt in the mouth batter and just the right side of chewy.
Moving on to mains, Mr R had the 8oz Rib Eye with Air Dried Tomato, Mushroom and Garlic Butter. These were served with fat chips which we weren’t aware of so we’d ordered a side of them too. Oh well. The steak was cooked to the exact medium rare that Mr R prefers and was “rich and full of flavour”. I ordered Charred Swordfish ( I know – Tuna and then Swordfish – who cares?) served with Roasted Root Vegetables and Lemon and Mango Chutney. At this stage the Alice in Wonderland analogy kicks in again as the food looks completely pretty on the plate but belies the huge portions! I could have had half the swordfish and still been full. The chutney lent a vibrant seasonal edge to the dish and Mr R wolfed down the roasted veg.
Now a word about wine. The waiters themselves are all trained in recommending the wine list. Being in Chester we had a glass of ‘Racy Reisling’, which at £7 a glass would be difficult to find a more food-friendly wine. With our main course I had a glass of Rioja which was a good honest tinto at £5. Mr R had the Murphy’s Australian Shiraz which he enjoyed with his steak but made the comment it would have been nice to have had a French red choice (by the glass).
Pudding had to be a sharing affair as we were both starting to get rather full so we ordered the Lemon Posset with Fresh Berries and Butter Shortbread – alongside two expressos. It was the right choice, a creamy, zesty explosion with a sharp strong coffee and we were good to go.
Oddfellows is, simply put, grown-up fun. It put me in mind of a less blinged up Crazy Bear. All the whimsy but with a little more delicacy and charm. The fourteen newly built rooms are very competitively priced starting at £90 a night making it a great option for both business or pleasure – I had a quick peek at one which had a stand-alone bath at the end of the bed, heaven. There is also a very well sized up stairs function space with its own bar which is soon to get some refurbishment treatment that has a super outside terrace space, so very sought after in a city-centre. I shall be back up in Cheshire at Christmas and will definitely be popping in to see Oddfellows interpretation of the festive season!
Design Restaurants’ members receive 10% off food lunch and dinner Monday to Thursday at The Garden by Simon Radley at Oddfellows.
Review by Mrs Robinson who was invited by Oddfellows to review The Garden By Simon Radley.
Design Restaurants is the online fine dining guide and members club recommending the best places to eat in the UK and offering fantastic benefits in many of them. Download our free app at www.designrestaurants.com.