Chester is known for its wide variety of restaurants, colourful social gatherings and creative attitudes towards food. Locals challenge the way things are done when it comes to their food and are constantly keeping our city up to date with new trends and flavours of the world. With good food, there must be a price! As a citizen of Chester I’ve set myself the task of finding a great deal alongside.
The issue always comes down to the big pound signs. I once treated my boyfriend to dinner at the Opera House Grill for his birthday: pre-drinks, starter, super expensive T-bone steak (I definitely didn’t encourage him to order that!) and chocolate-covered honeycomb for dessert. My legs were constantly tense – the bill was really stacking up. Yep, £160… not including tip! Don’t get me wrong, it was an absolutely incredible experience but thank the lord my boyfriend is a true gentleman and split the bill.
For general eating out, I need good-quality, enjoyable, low-cost options.
When I first searched the term ‘pre-fixe menu’ for my story I was surprised to see ‘expensive’ ‘high end’ and ‘fancy’ at the end of the search bar. This to me was ludicrous! My social life (and that of my friends) revolves around the bargains offered up to us by pre-fixed menus. A pre-fixe menu is a fixed price meal. For example, a two course meal with half a bottle of wine for £15 (often with the option to add on other courses or upgrade to more expensive dishes for a few pounds). The catch is these menus are only offered at certain times.
Weekdays are known as the best for getting a good deal at a restaurant. Urbano32 offers two for one pizzas on a Tuesday. Hickorys has bottomless ribs on a Thursday. Burger Shed has two for one burgers on a Wednesday and on a Tuesday – buy a hotdog and get a side free. Friday and Saturday dinners are usually full price and super busy. The pre-fixe menu is the best of both worlds. It supports the culture of ‘getting a good bargain’ and it’s available on weekdays AND weekends (down to the restaurants’ discretion). The only limitation is the time.
The places I’ve visited so far roughly offer pre-fixe 5pm-7pm. This may be a little early for some, but my boyfriend and I always book for 6:45, to get the benefit of the deal whilst also not missing the atmosphere of the busy periods!
Nowadays you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner on a pre-fixe menu. All of which I have experienced in this lovely little city. What I’m focusing on in this feature are the dinners.
Our two favourite pre-fixe occasions are listed below. It was hard honing in on the best as there are so many places in Chester that have really blown us away…
Siam Thai and Teppanyaki Restaurant
Thai food was where my love of pre-fixe menus manifested. Siam is an independent, family-run business which opened in April 2006. The building is creatively split over three floors. On the ground floor is Chester’s first Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant, while upstairs is the authentic Thai restaurant and bar. Wandering in on a Friday afternoon after a busy day at work, my boyfriend and I caught the delicious aromas of fresh garlic and ginger. We were quickly greeted by a lovely waiter and shown to the restaurant upstairs.
The Thai restaurant has a set menu of two courses for £14.95 at 5-6:30pm. After serving our drinks the waiter recommended their Khanome Jeab – steamed prawn and pork dumplings served on a bed of salad. The dumplings were DELICIOUS. The boiled pockets of moist meats and fragrant spices really set the scene for a fabulous night. The other starters included five vegetarian options, four fish dishes and meat dishes such as ribs and chicken satay. There was clearly plenty of choice.
For the main meal, you can choose your meat and create the dish for yourself. The meats include: Beef, Pork, Chicken, Mixed Vegetables or White Bean Curd. (duck, squid or fillet of sea bass are £2.50 extra, king prawns £3.00 extra and mixed seafood £3.50 extra). Each dish on the menu included a helpful suggestion on the most complimentary combination. I chose the Pad Krapow – stir-fried Thai basil with pork (recommended). This dish was Thai basil leaves stir-fried with onions, french beans, garlic and chilli. The menu also suggested eating this dish the traditional way with minced pork and a Thai style fried egg on top for £1.50 extra. Trust me – the spicy chilli and egg went really well together. Since our first outing, we’ve been back four times!
Next up? French! This is my absolute favourite cuisine. I love sauces, seafood and beautiful steaks. In Chester there are at least four fabulous French restaurants (that I know of) that offer a pre-fixe menu. After a brief debate with the boyfriend, we agreed the ultimate winner was Chez Jules. It’s one of the longest-running independent restaurants in Chester. The doors of this beautifully authentic French restaurant were opened in 1997 by Jason Ellison. His restaurant was influenced by the soft lighting, rustic Parisian streets and beautifully clean, daily handwritten menus (a first in Chester) that lined the French quarter. Chez Jules Pre-Fixe menu runs from Monday – Saturday 12pm – 6pm / 9.30pm – 10.30pm and Sunday 12pm – 9.30pm. The menu offers one course at £10.95, two courses at £13.95 and three courses at £16.95.
The atmosphere of the restaurant straight away echos that of a peaceful chic dining experience. For our latest visit, we were sat right in the middle of the restaurant on a stylish glass table, where we had a perfect view of the open house kitchen.
We chose the two-course deal and ordered a bottle of Rose and house red (yes two whole bottles!) Feeling experimental I went for the snails to start. The options were smaller than that of Siam but were full of different choices (including traditional pates, soups and salads). Vegetarian diners are able to select any main course from any menu as part of their prix-fixe deal and vegan diners can select any starter or main course. The snails came smothered in garlic butter and I had to ask our waitress, Maurana, how on earth to eat them! She gave me a cool little fork to scoop them out with and wow, the butter drizzled on the snail created a flavoursome and earthy taste.
Next up, the main. I chose rainbow trout, wilted greens and sauce Grenoble. The dish’s presentation was so attractive – a lot of thought is put into aesthetics here. I didn’t have a clue what sauce Grenoble until I got home later and looked it up – a sauce created by capers, gherkins and beurre noisette, or brown butter. My goodness, it was light and creamy and sharp all at the same time! It complemented the fish perfectly. All the mains come with a pan of seasonal vegetables and gratin dauphinoise (best creation ever) – or a portion of frites. I was truly in my element.
Next on my list to explore…
The Yard- Italian
Olive Tree Brasserie- Greek
The Ruan Orchid- Thai
Sleepy Panda- Chinese
Fenugreek- South Asian