By EssentialsMAG food critic SALLY ANGLESEA
Palm Court at The Grosvenor Pulford Hotel & Spa
Wrexham Road, Pulford, Chester, Cheshire CH4 9DG
Cost for three course meal, for two people, without drinks: £70-£80.
Hotel restaurants have managed to muster a bit of a bad rep in my books. By the end of the evening, as centrepiece candles are replaced with breakfast conserve selections, I often find myself feeling underwhelmed, overcharged and on one particularly occasion, moderately concerned for my life.
I should explain that last comment…but I have a limited word count allowance.
I am pleased to say, however, that as I stepped into The Grosvenor Pulford Hotel’s newly launched restaurant, Palm Court, any initial fears I may have had of being underwhelmed or, indeed, murdered were quickly abandoned.
Having undergone a pretty pricey refurb, the restaurant itself has transformed dramatically - and it really is quite stunning. There is an art deco style decadence to the décor, (try saying that after a few glasses of wine!) that wouldn’t be out of place in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel; whilst various modern touches give a cosy and contemporary edge, that put you at home within the grandeur.
Live piano music adds a gentle elegance to the ambience – and childish delight, once you realise it is, in fact, a self-playing piano. I went for dinner with a friend and fellow food critic earlier this year, and he noted the relatively thankless task that live musicians often face: there was a live pianist playing throughout the meal, and bless him, despite his no doubt relentless rehearsal process and intense musical training, no one really noticed he was there.
So, Michael, perhaps herein lies the solution? Let’s just hope self-writing restaurant reviews don’t become the next big thing…
After a warm welcome - amidst self-playing piano madness - we were invited to enjoy a drink before being shown to our table. This pre-dinner area is a bit of a niche space, and one I like very much - rather than being separate from the dining area, it runs through the middle of it, so you feel less like you are awaiting the main event, and more like you are already part of it. It’s also the perfect viewing platform to assess the contents of passing plates as they leave the kitchen.
Bar Server, Naz, took care of our drinks and soon proved himself to be a cocktail concocting Willy Wonka. In the absence of a drinks menu, which was still being developed, I specified only three preferences to him: gin, elderflower and gin. What resulted was a delicately floral, refreshingly minty, slightly fruity little number that was dangerously thirst quenching and totally delicious. With that in mind, if you’re a cocktail fan, I highly recommend you abandon the trusty classics and, instead, opt for one of Naz’s bespoke creations: you won’t be disappointed (and even if you are, you’ll soon be too drunk to realise!). If you’re an ale drinker, you may not be quite so enchanted, as there are no draft ales on offer. However, there is a good selection in adjoining Nelson’s bar, and the waiting on staff are happy to bring your choice to you.
When I finally managed to turn my attention away from my aperitif and onto the food menu, I realised I was in for a lengthy selection process. Led by Group Executive chef, Paul Prescott and Head chef, Dion Lloyd, the modern British and European cuisine offers up some absolute wonders; and choosing between them all was no easy task.
It was made slightly simpler, however, by Chloe, our Server, who was superb from start to finish. She was passionate about the food, knowledgeable about the ingredients and faultlessly attentive. On her recommendation, I ordered the chef’s favourite to start: confit Anglesey rainbow trout. Now, I’m not a trouty kind of gal, so this wasn’t high on my list of choices, but wow…consider me converted! Glistening, beautifully textured confit trout was sat amidst a vibrant mise en scene of ingredients: all of which were crucial to the dish. A quenelle of crab rillettes introduced a delicate, fresh flavour of the seaside, which was complimented by the toasty flavour and crispy texture of puffed rice. A silky smooth carrot and brown crab purée brought the dish together, whilst select scatterings of raw shallot and radish added bite and an occasional burst of flavour. Two picture-perfect, and perfectly-pickled miniature carrots crowned the plate, in both appearance and taste, introducing a very subtle but transformative flavour of star anise. Soft, crispy, salty, creamy and sweet; it’s no wonder this dish comes recommended and, for £8.50, I thought it was very reasonably priced.
Then arrived the double baked cheese soufflé, which should be renamed “proof there is a God.” Cheddar cheese soufflé, black truffle and sticky shallots all resting within a pool of heart warming, home comforting, creamy, dreamy, cheesy sauce. If it didn’t almost certainly mean I would become morbidly obese and severely diabetic, I would indulge in this bad boy on a daily basis – and probably use the sauce as some kind of body lotion.
But, before I had a chance to saturate my skin in soufflé sauce, my main course arrived: Welsh mountain lamb. To my delight, having only expected two different cuts of meat (woe is me), I was presented with three: loin, rack and shoulder. Both loin and rack were perfectly pink, and the crunchy crust on the loin added a punch of herby flavour that complemented the distinct flavour of the meat. The star of the dish, though, had to be the fried shredded shoulder croquette: imagine a potato croquette; now take out the potato and replace it with a shed load of tender, minty, shredded lamb shoulder and there you have it - a crispy ball of meaty magnificence. Seriously, I’d eat those beauties until I turned into one. A satisfying mound of truffle mash accompanied the triumphant trio, and the addition of braised fennel introduced a subtle but very welcome bite of liquorice. The baby turnips were the only feature that I wouldn’t invite to the party again, simply because they didn’t bring much to it.
My partner’s choice of Iberico pork was equally impressive and, again, offered an unexpected and delightful array of meat: loin, cutlet and belly. Much to his dismay, I tried all of them, and after much deliberation and essential second tastings, it was the pork belly that stood out to me most. Served as a relatively thin slice, it meant the fat was crisp (hallelujah!) but the meat remained soft and succulent. Chorizo croquettes offered a salty smokiness to the dish, whilst fresh, shelled garden peas added vibrancy and sweetness.
I must also say that the jus (aka proper posh gravy) used for both dishes was so good that, if Naz had brought me a jug of that at the beginning of the evening - with a gin chaser - I’d have been more than happy. The depth of flavour was insane and it’s no wonder, considering it takes FOUR DAYS to make the stuff.
Dessert was lemon tart and a chocolate orange fondant. I got very little look-in when it came to the lemon pud, as my partner demolished it within a matter of minutes. But from the morsel I did nab, I must say, it was a pretty top tart (steady, now). The crust was crumbly and buttery, the filling packed a zesty punch, and the crisp, crème brulée top was a nice touch.
Sweet, citric supremacy continued with my double chocolate and orange melting fondant, which, upon cutting into it, oh-so-satisfyingly oozed into a dark and decadent pool of sauce. Perfectly cooked and totally indulgent, this fondant was pretty faultless. My only criticism would be the addition of Cointreau ice cream as, with the garnish of fresh orange salad as well, I felt the dessert was already packing enough orangey punch. Scoop me up a dollop of creamy vanilla ice cream to cut through that citric flavour and you’ve got yourself a winner.
This was a pretty spectacular evening of food at a restaurant I feel lucky to have on my doorstep. The menu at Palm Court is a playground of simple ingredients, creatively combined and lovingly delivered at prices that are pretty reasonable. There’s genuine passion igniting the soul of this newly-launched restaurant, and it’s reflected in every element: the food, the service, the local suppliers, the ambience, and of course, that incredibly satisfying self-playing piano.
- Private Dining – Palm Court offer a beautiful private dining area that you can reserve free of charge. Just ask upon booking.
- Saturday Soiree – Visit on Saturday evening to experience the delights of Chris Turner; Palm Court’s resident Pianist.
- Afternoon Tea – From Mon – Sat, experience a beautiful array of sarnies, cakes and teas, or perhaps a glass or two of bubbles. Prices from £18.95.
For more foodie fanaticism and photos, follow Sally on Instagram: @gingernutsaboutfood