Simon Richardson has an unforgettable beef experience at Chester’s newest grill restaurant
I haven’t been to Chester (or Scouse York, if you’re from my neck of the woods) for many years, so when I was given the chance to review The Forge – a new grill restaurant situated inside Hotel Indigo – I decided to make a day of it.
The intensely deep colour, the perfect shine, the rendered fat, and the blackened outside combine to present a piece of art
We decide to stay in the hotel overnight (pleasant enough but overpriced) and either side of the typical tourist-y wander around the city walls, we take in a few recommendations. Some superb tacos at Death by Tacos (they’ve got a new restaurant opening in a few weeks), a beer in a gaff with a massive gnome, then a quite wonderful couple of glasses of wine at Covino all provide a lovely day out, and a fine backdrop for our evening meal.
Covino in particular, though, is so good that we find ourselves not wanting to leave – the call of The Forge suddenly dampened by delicious-looking small plates appearing all around us, teasing us with their smell.
But in the end, we prize ourselves away and make the 15-minute walk back to our digs for the evening. There’s no escaping the ugliness of the hotel and restaurant exterior, but inside, it’s really well done, with low light and enough columnar separation from the main hotel reception to just about give you some privacy. It’s pleasingly busy, too – not at all what I had expected on a Wednesday evening.
We get settled in with a couple of their suggested aperitifs – a champagne cocktail and an apple Tom Collins. But between the un-mottled granules of sugar in the former and the overwhelming amount of syrup in the latter, they’re both pretty much undrinkable. The plate of bone marrow and toast we saw earlier in Covino starts calling to me a little more loudly.
The menu at Forge is pretty much a Who’s Who of “things that will make me do an embarrassingly loud faux sex noise in a public place”, but rightly or wrongly, my expectations are tempered by the stigma of “hotel restaurant” despite the promise of locally sourced meat and sustainable ingredients, so the thought of three different kinds of oyster raises nothing more than a fleeting whimper.
That noise gets swiftly upgraded to a full-on, titillated moan when they arrive, though. Three different types: classic shallot, blow-your-head-off tabasco, and a pesto-y Thai style one to refresh the palate after that considerable kick. Hello… this might actually be quite good.
Our snacks are next to arrive, and they only serve to elevate that belief. Croquettes manage to strike a perfect balance between cauliflower and cheese, neither conceding defeat in the battle of the tastebuds, while the outer crispness provides just enough give to make the final breach of its walls - and the discovery of the smooth gooiness within – all the more victorious.
Game lollipops are rich and intense, with a sweet glaze that contrasts perfectly with the salty bacon mayonnaise. The best of the three, though, is the venison tartare, accompanied by a subtle, careful satay, a crispy onion top and a delicate hit of pepper from the watercress that is more than a little reminiscent of Vietnamese cooking.
All three represent pretty standard steakhouse fare but are so precisely cooked and presented that there’s no need for something out of left field. In fact, I like this field very much – particularly when it contains the cows that we’re about to get so cosy with.
Now, this part of the meal needs its own section, because words alone cannot describe quite how fantastic the sharing steak was, so I need to visually frame it to make the point. It’s a choose-your-own affair, but unlike lobsters, the cows aren’t swimming around in a tank, mooing while they slowly drown in front of a glut of horrified diners.
No, in fact, these are beyond dead – they’ve been matured for around 60 days in a chamber that sits in the restaurant next to the tables.
I’m giddy as I’m invited up to pick ours – the oldest T-bone they have left. It’s virtually black on the outside and as the door opens, I’m hit by that addictive, heady smell of deep, rich earthiness that well-matured beef carries. Shit the bed.
I sit back down and enjoy a glass of red while we wait – Passo Doble, a really interesting organic wine, with its 85% Malbec and 15% Corvina meaning that those big, dark fruit flavours are tempered, and there is a lingering sourness that offsets the sweetness that a typical Malbec would provide.
But like the hispi cabbage (smoky, but needs more layers of crispness than just the outermost layer) and the triple cooked chips (fat, perfectly textured hits of salt) we order as sides, the wine is swept into virtual irrelevance when the T-Bone arrives. My God, look at it. The intensely deep colour, the perfect shine, the rendered fat, and the blackened outside combine to present a piece of art – a painting of a piece of meat.
You could hang the smell and taste in the Louvre, too. It’s so aged that it’s like eating the best cured ham you’ve ever had, but with the intense taste of aged beef and an almost biltong-like texture on the very edge, where the cure has protected the interior for 2 months plus.
I can’t get over how good it is, every mouthful producing gasps or occasional mutterings of “Jesus Christ” as I shake my head in disbelief and chuckle like a smug medieval king. It may well be the most superb piece of beef I have ever tasted.
There’s just about room in my utterly dismayed stomach for a chocolate cremeux. Honeycomb. Ice cream. Chocolate. It’s all very nice but my mind is just going “Beef? Is there more beef?” No. No beef. Just this tasty chocolate. So sad. Time to snap myself out of this Hemingway-esque state and go to bed.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you. The Forge ain’t cheap – and these are tough times indeed. And for all its considerable efforts to make the surroundings pleasant, it’s always going to feel a bit like a chain hotel restaurant – because that’s where it happens to be. But by God, its steaks are bucket list stuff, worth saving up for and certainly worth a train ride. Get the oldest one you can, close your eyes and savour every single, wonderful mouthful.
Trust me, you won’t regret it.
The Forge, Grosvenor Park Rd, Chester CH1 1QQ
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Oysters 8, Croquettes 8, Game Lollipops 9, Venison Tartare 10, T Bone 10, Chips 8, Hispi Cabbage 7, Chocolate Cremeux 7
Impressively bustling and restaurant-y for a hotel restaurant