Unless you’re a regular user of the south east section of the ring road, you might not yet have noticed Chester’s newest boutique hotel and – more excitingly for residents – it’s on-site eatery, the second of 2015 MasterChef winner Simon Wood’s fine dining restaurants following the success of WOOD Manchester. It may be located outside of the city walls, but the beauty of a compact city such as Chester is that it’s still only a ten-minute stroll to Storyhouse, so the pre-theatre menu (£27.50 for three courses) is both convenient and cost-effective when it comes to making a night of it. Alternatively, the lunch option means that you can attend a matinee well fed.
We’re here, though, to sample the afternoon tea, served 2pm-5pm all week long.
The gentility of afternoon tea is rather at odds with the dramatic hubbub of one of WOOD Chester’s prime features, a fashionable chef’s table and theatre kitchen allowing patrons to watch the culinary artistes at work. If anything, though, this clash of experiences simply merits multiple visits. And anyway, tea with a twist is de rigueur these days (note the “punk tea” at Liverpool’s Baltic Social).
In addition to the flambéing or carving which might be taking place in the open kitchen, WOOD Chester’s take on the theme is a gentleman’s afternoon tea. Consisting of possibly the finest scotch egg you’ll ever taste and a pork pie that puts the average ploughman’s to shame, this is a beefed-up banquet that is presumably not the sole preserve of males, since there are also ample ladies who would prefer a mini fish ’n’ chips to the more conventional smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches.
The décor is in keeping with this theme, wood-panelled walls and Chesterfield sofas evoking an urbane gentleman’s club. There are also hints of art nouveau in the lighting and industrial chic in exposed ceiling ducts, befitting the establishment’s ambition to be a flexible venue with something for everyone; though the food is the main draw, you could just as easily call in for a drink at the bar and enjoy a Tutti Frutti Gin & Tonic which utilises the fresh citrus and subtle tropical fruit flavours from the dessert that helped secure Oldham-born Simon the MasterChef title.
Simon’s celebrated sweet has been turned into a liqueur by Manchester’s Didsbury Gin (there’s a strong emphasis on local produce throughout), which is also being stocked at Aldi stores nationwide if you want to grab an entire bottle of the stuff. The highlight of the drinks menu is probably the WoodKraft signature cocktails, each infused with zesty flavours and described as ‘our soundtrack to your experience’. G & Tea costs an extra £5 per head (£50 for two) and there is also an Indulgence option with champagne and strawberries for another £5 more (£55 for two). The gentleman’s tea (£40 for two) is appropriately served with draught beer.
For the traditionalists, the classic afternoon tea is exactly that. A pot of tea or coffee is accompanied by a range of tasty sandwiches and sweet treats including homemade Battenberg with a chewy marzipan coating, rich Bakewell tart and delectable mini scones (cream on top for those that care about this sort of thing).
Waiting staff were personable and knowledgeable, personifying the aura of relaxed fine dining. If there is one gripe it is that the exterior doesn’t match the interior: the glass frontage is light but nondescript and the outlook of Victorian gothic on the other side of Grosvenor Park Road is obscured by traffic.
Purely as an aside, because selecting a destination based on its conveniences would be the height of folly, be sure to check out the decadent personal restrooms with Molton Brown lotion and hand towels. The only thing missing is a rolltop bath, which there is very nearly enough room for! Even for Cestrians it could be enough to entice you into registering at the adjacent reception desk and taking a lift up to explore the rooms of Hotel Indigo…
Further info and booking enquiries here.