The Chester Grosvenor is one of those quintessentially English hotels – discreet, luxurious and with five-star food and service. And its location in this walled city’s iconic shopping quarter makes it the perfect base for a weekend of pleasure
Words by Libby Norman
The Chester Grosvenor is a quintessentially English hotel, luxurious surroundings, tradition and fabulous food and spa make it a top spot for weddings, for racegoers and (our mission) a weekend of R&R. Having visited many moons ago, I wonder if it will have changed, but it feels reassuringly familiar with traditionally clad doormen and spectacularly large Georgian chandelier gracing its Gallery space. Taking tea in The Gallery is something of a tradition, and you are watched over by fine paintings from the Grosvenor family’s own collection, including Lutyens’ portrait of legendary racehorse Doncaster.
Our deluxe suite a short walk from here marries tradition with contemporary style. There’s a lavish marble bathroom, cosy living space and – tucked discreetly behind a pillar divider – an awesomely large bed with second flatscreen TV. It is blissfully quiet, even though we know the streets outside are packed with shoppers. After grazing on the bowl of fruit set out to welcome us, we head out to join them.
Chester is justly famous for its shopping, with many of the most unusual being tucked within The Rows. These are the picturesque Medieval covered walkways featuring on postcards – offering two decks of shopping as well as intriguing bars and eateries, many at basement level. Since we’ve arrived in the middle of a flurry of snow, the whole effect is almost overwhelming, as if we’ve landed in the middle of a Grimm’s fairytale, but we stay dry under the shelter of The Rows.
The Chester Grosvenor is situated on the main artery – Eastgate – but you can happily spend all day wandering the other three streets, which offer a hotchpotch of luxury names (Penhaligon’s, Space.NK, Jo Malone), alongside independent stores and galleries. My travel companion is delighted by the choice of barbers’ shops and rushes off to get a haircut and proper shave while I carry on browsing – spending far too long lusting after the jewels in Boodles’ shop window right next to the hotel.
“You can happily spend all day wandering The Rows, offering a hotchpotch of luxury names, intriguing eateries and independent stores and galleries”
We head back to our room to drop our bags before heading downstairs to dine at La Brasserie, a buzzing Parisian-style restaurant presided over by the hotel’s executive chef Simon Radley. He’s a leading light of the restaurant scene, and the hotel carries a string of awards for food, wine and service. I’ve heard good things about the puddings here, so we start by sharing a portion of artisan breads instead of hors d’oeuvres. For mains, I opt for the stone bass with sourdough gremolata, Pecorino gnocchi and fennel, which is a rich and utterly moreish combination. My partner was planning on something from the Josper grill (as close as you’ll get to a barbecue) but has a last-minute change of heart and chooses the lamb biryani. This consists of a hearty lamb rump on a bed of wild-rice pilaf. He declares it entirely different and far superior to any he’s tried before (and there have been many).
We dither over puddings; I wish I had room for two because there’s a tempting array of dessert cocktails. But I finally settle on the toffee popcorn panna cotta with dates and crème fraîche, which is something I’d never have concocted but turns out to be a glorious marriage of flavours. My companion plays it safe with the coupe maison, featuring meringue and berries. We swap spoonfuls of sweetness and leave sated.
“We conclude that The Chester Grosvenor deserves its reputation as an oasis of tranquility, the perfect retreat from a madcap world”
The next morning’s breakfast menu is just the ticket for a bitterly cold day. Clearly everyone in Chester knows this, as La Brasserie has a fair few jovial breakfast assignations taking place around us in a fragrant fuzz of fresh coffee and bacon aromas. Morning newspaper unfurled, my companion opts for the traditional full English, including local sausages and Bury black pudding. I’m in a lighter mood and try the speciality Grosvenor omelette – enclosing bacon, fresh tomatoes and herbs and cooked to eggy perfection. As with the previous night’s meal, the breads served with our breakfast are exceptional.
Before we head off for round two of our important shopping mission around Chester, I take a quick tour of the wedding spaces with a member of the events team. Alongside the period rooms are chic and very contemporary suites that host large weddings and racing and high-society events during the season. As with everything here, the design and attention to detail is spot on. Bidding farewell to the lovely great-coated doormen, we conclude that The Chester Grosvenor deserves its reputation as an oasis of tranquillity and timeless service – the perfect place for a weekend’s retreat from a madcap world.