I knew the meal was going to be good as soon as I saw the bread trolley. Bread trolley! It featured a choice of about 15 loaves of bread from which slices were cut on request. Bread varieties ranged from banana to spinach-and-olive to granary to pumpkin seed. After negotiating whether we wanted salted or unsalted butter, we each began to eat our slices. But really I should go back an hour or so, for the meal really started in the Living Room.
The Chester Grosvenor Hotel is a sumptuous venue. We walked into a marble-floored lobby of off-white, broad surfaces neatly laid with informative brochures and flower arrangements. Only one staff member was immediately apparent but clearly - from both the nature of the hotel and later service - it's a well-staffed venture. The Living Room is the hotel's lounge, located off of the lobby. Cozy chairs and sofas crowd around tables where dramatically tall martini glasses loom over more modest drinks. That's the height my classic dacquiri achieved as I nibbled on a variety of cheese straws robust enough to take the accompanying spreads, one truffled, the other salmon'd. The outsized menus were a hazard to my tower drink - I was duly warned when my menu was handed to me.
C. and I decided slowly, opting in the end for three à la carte dishes than the Gastronomic Menu, in part because so many dishes appealed, and in part because it's always an awkward moment when I realize that I failed to tell the kitchen in advance that C. doesn't eat fish. The sommelier did well with our request for a white to accompany robust meaty mains; even our water was cooled and waiting at the table by the time we were ushered through to the restaurant proper.
The Arkle is a pair of rooms divided by columns. Where the Living Room is snug, with just enough room to walk betwen rows of bulky chairs, the restaurant spaces out the tables comfortably, so the only conversation you need hear is your own and the waitstaff have plenty of room to serve. The walls are hung with horse racing prints, and the chairs are comfortable. Shortly after we were seated, we decided on bread and an amuse-bouche arrived: a delicate roulade of salmon.
I began with the Délice, "hickory smoked duck délice with rhubarb and ginger brittle". This tender parfait of layered duck was topped with rhubarb and walled in with translucent panels of candied ginger sheets. It looked lovely and tasted even better. C. was happy with his "tranche of foie gras with salt duck bits, runny yolk and black truffle". After a sensible interval, our mains arrived. My twenty-four hour leg of mutton was fork-tender, engaging without being overwhelming. A sauce of Jerusalem artichokes was poured on as a finish at the table, its smooth, light sweetness a pleasant complement to the meat. The accopanying langoustines didn't do much for more though: not bad, but neither did they seem necessary. C.'s roe deer was a source of delight for him: "Caramelised turnip and apple choucroute with crisp Berkshire pork and carved Roe deer saddle" reads the menu. The next day, he effused over how good it was.
We were too full for cheese. The amuse-bouche and cheese sticks and bread and appetizerz had all been well-sized and light, but the substantive main did a very solid job of filling our stomachs. The prospect of a cheese course went by the wayside. (They had a beautiful, spacious cheese trolley in addition to the bread trolley. I wondered what the cute little pear-shaped cheeses were. The cheese menu also offers cheesecake.)
Still, I'm glad we had appetite enough to go on, for the pre-dessert was superb, the best part of very good meal. The dark chocolate pudding with candied orange segments was what every chocolate orange wishes it could be. I figured I could fit in a soufflé though - a white chocolate one boxed in with a dark chocolate shell and the refreshing contrast of passionfruit. C. opted for the "caramelised pear baklava with smoked almond marzipan and perry sorbet". The perry in the sorbet was a ghost, hard to discern after the force of the other flavors with which it was competing. Full and comfortable, we loitered and talked and were looked after by the alert and considerate staff.
The Arkle has comfortable, relaxing environment, excellent service, and food which was thoroughly competent at its worse, and at its best superb. I would love to go back the next time I'm near Chester. (P.S. The hotel's brasserie is also meant to serve very good food - and at cheaper prices.)