DINING out in Chester has changed a lot since I last lived here.
We’ve always been a city with great culinary pride but, with a number of large operators and national chains creeping into our walled city, it’s easy to forget the stalwarts, the go-tos, the reliable ‘indies’ we know and love.
It’s the reason that when my friend came for a mid-week business trip from London, I took her to my favourite French restaurant, Chez Jules (est. 1997).
Her timing was impeccable. She was straight off the train at 7pm on a Tuesday and within 15 minutes we were sitting in the warm, bustling atmosphere of the Northgate Street bistro, sipping a nice cold glass of vino blanc. Bliss.
The offer has never changed at Chez Jules - two courses and a bottle of wine each, every Tuesday, from noon ’til 10.30pm.
The price, along with inflation, has risen ever so slightly to a very reasonable £17.50 for the choice of two dishes from their a la carte starter, main and dessert menus which change daily.
Aghast at the price and the setting, my southern friend almost shrilled with excitement when she saw the options. Luckily, with the eatery alive with the sound of conversation and cooking, we weren’t heard too loudly.
For starters, my friend with her impending holiday in Mykonos in mind, opted for the roasted butternut squash, puy lentils, red onion, pomegranate salad.
For myself? A freshly made mackerel pate with crisp toast and some freshly dressed salad.
We had options of soup de jour, duck liver pate, moules and even frogs legs.
But with us both being long-standing pescatarians, our warm up to the plats de resistance was perfectly sized and perfectly tasty.
The main meals in Chez Jules are always a beautiful sight. Their presentation are camera phone ready and soon we were posting on social media about the #Tuesdaytreat we were about to devour and, in turn, receiving dozens of likes from envious friends.
The good thing about Chez Jules, well one of them anyway, is that no matter what time of day, month or year, the food is exceptionally fresh, hence why the menus change daily.
My seabass tasted like it had been caught that day and found its way artfully into the chef’s frying pan to gently crisp its glimmering scales and float effortlessly, along with a small heap of lentils, straight to our table.
My foodie friend, who is used to enjoying the finery of some of London’s best restaurants, opted for the halibut with white wine, fennel and mussel broth with lemon butter.
Accompanied with Chez Jules' delicious standard side of dauphinoise potatoes and freshly steamed carrots, mange tout and French beans, my companion was in a world of delight, commenting that the fish was ‘melt in your mouth’.
Despite her best efforts and mine, our evening of French cuisine and wine would not have been complete without a slice of tarte tatin with creamy vanilla enriched ice cream.
Soft, sweet, sticky and simply sublime.
With thoughts of diets and Mykonos well at the back of our minds, we sat and soaked up the atmosphere, so famous in this gorgeous little city centre bistro for some time more, post-meal.
There’s a reason it’s a stalwart, a go-to, a reliable indie – and it’s certainly my city bistro choice de jour.
How it fared:
See full story in the Chester Leader