“ Address: 10 Commonhall Street / Chester CH1 2BJ „
~An evening out in Chester~
Two new colleagues have joined my department, one from Germany and one from Portugal, and I wanted to take them out for dinner to welcome them to our miserably wet and cold country. Since they're living on the outskirts of Chester, we decided to look for a restaurant in the city but none of us had any bright ideas. I asked around in the office and got a few suggestions, one of which had no table until 9 pm, another place where nobody was answering the phone and my final attempt was to ring a place called The Pelican. I was a bit surprised when the phone was answered by someone who said something that didn't sound at all like "The Pelican". I asked if I had the wrong number and she explained that The Pelican was no more, that the premises had been taken over and that the place was now trading under the name of 'The Weighing Room'. I asked what type of food they served and heard the dreaded words "We do sort of tapas type food".
I don't really like tapas, tending to find it a dissatisfying way to pay too much and eat too little, but by this time I was a bit worried that if I turned round and said "Yuk, tapas, bye" it would be rather rude. Instead I asked if they had a table for three at seven thirty (fingers crossed that she might say they didn't) and then made a booking. Oh how I sometimes wish I'd been brought up to not care about offending people. I was also told that "We've got live music starting at 9 o'clock" - I told the lady we'd be sure to be out before then.
~Unders starters orders~
The Weighing Room is apparently owned by Chester Racecourse and takes its name from the place where the jockeys, their saddles and weights are weighed before or after a race. If you don't know about the horse racing connection, you can be forgiven for thinking it's a pretty weird name - after all, who wants to be reminded of their weight when going out for dinner. It's not actually all that close to the racecourse, located as it is on Commonhall Street, a strange little road with an alley-like entrance off Bridge Street. Its postcode was not recognised by my Tom Tom so we had a bit of a wet time wandering around trying to find it based only on a 5 second glance at a map before leaving the office. It apparently has a roof terrace and I can only assume that there might be views of the racecourse if you head up to the top of the building. Otherwise, aside from the racing-themed menu design, there's little that would lead you to think about horses when you're eating at this place.
We had a table not far into the ground floor dining area, adjacent to a large round pillar which was padded and decorated in stripes of velvet. I have absolutely no idea why this had been done but with most of the ground floor very open-plan in layout, I can only assume that this pillar was probably holding the next couple of floors up. Reassuring indeed.
We ordered a glass of wine, a pint of beer and a mug of mint tea (I just love it when foreign colleagues upset the expectations of waiters and waitresses by asking for tea with their food) as well as some water. I'd have happily bought a bottle but the waitress immediately offered a jug of iced water which I appreciated. I asked for some explanation of the menu, looking for guidance on how small the so-called 'small plates' were supposed to be. The waitress advised that most people order two to three dishes per head so we went through the menu and picked a total of seven dishes plus a side dish.
The menu has several sections. The first is labelled 'Graze' and contains pre-dinner nibbles like olives, and bread with oil and balsamic vinegar. Side dishes are listed under 'Side Saddle' which comprises three options - skinny fries served either 'nude' or with parmesan and truffle or chilli salt; French beans with garlic and shallots, and a few assorted side salads. These all cost between £3 and £3.50.
The main dishes - described as 'small plates' - are listed as 'The Main Event'. Aside from a sharing platter comprising mostly of various types of meat, the rest of the dishes are quite small. These vary from £4 for bruschetta or garlic mushrooms up to £12.00 for a steak dish or £10 for a grilled lamb cutlet. I can only assume that these were slightly bigger dishes or else rather over-priced. We worked our way down the menu and picked an assortment.
Despite a note on the menu saying that the food would come when it was ready rather than all at once, all of the dishes did arrive within a few minutes of each other. To say that they weren't large would be fair - it looked a bit like a dolls dinner party with lots of little dishes spread across the table. Salt and pepper squid chilli, smoked salt and grilled lime comprised a small bowl with about 5 coiled up strips of delicately seasoned and carefully prepared squid in a very light batter that tasted delicious. King Prawns pil pil comprised about 10 mid-sized prawns swimming in oil with chopped red chillies. Tasty but a little unexciting at £7. The goat cheese, red pepper and rocket pizette was a tasty little mini pizza with plenty of punch and one of the larger dishes representing quite good value at £5. Paprika spiced whitebait with saffron aioli was a bit of a con at £6 for the tiniest bowl of one of the cheapest types of fish and the sauce really didn't go very well with the strongly flavoured little fish.
The other two shared a chicken and couscous dish which looked lovely and comprised two brochettes of chicken breast meat perched on top of a good sized pile of couscous. The char grilled monkfish at £8.50 seemed rather over priced for two brochettes of small pieces of fish perched on a shredded salad with Asian spices. The final dish was a pea and mint risotto which turned out to be a star performer, tasty beyond expectations and a welcome bit of 'bulk' in an otherwise rather lightweight assortment. I'm also sure I ordered a scallop dish but it didn't come and we didn't miss it (and importantly it wasn't on the bill). The skinny chips were served in another tiny bowl but were nicely seasoned with the chilli salt which my colleague spotted and was surprised by, not having heard me ask for them to be done that way.
I'm often accused of a lack of devotion to reviewing duty because I almost always skip pudding. On this occasion the seven tiny dishes and one side left us unchallenged by the prospect of pudding - in fact I felt like I'd been nibbling on starters rather than eating a proper meal and I certainly had space for another course. Everything had been very good but the portions were sized for tiny little jockeys rather than people with normal appetites. For pudding two of us had the summer pudding with clotted cream (£5.50 each and worth every penny) whilst the other had the pannacotta which was strangely served in a tall narrow jar.
~Place your bets~
The bill for three of us including two pints of beer, a glass of wine, a cup of mint tea came to £77.50. I added a fiver for the tip which was not overly generous but then neither were the portions so I didn't feel too bad about that. The quality of all the food was excellent, it was only the quantity I would take issue with. There were plenty of dishes that I liked the look of, but I did find it difficult to judge how many would be needed to keep three people satisfied. You could, by choosing carefully, eat for rather less but I don't think we really over-did it by having the amount we did.
For quality I was more than happy but for quantity I'd rather eat like a horse than nibble like a jockey. On race days there is another menu available which comprises a £20 per head buffet with many of the dishes from the standard menu which is probably not bad value. They also do a race day breakfast for £15 for the Full English and £20 for a Champagne breakfast which must be booked in advance.