Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and intoxication, known to the Greeks as Dionysus. His prowess for partying was literally legendary, as were a whole host of stories not fit for a family newspaper. He gave his name to the Bacchanalia, festivals of debauchery that look, to the modern eye, like Roman swingers’ parties. Works of art such as Reubens’ Bacchanal depict nudes of all shapes and sizes (some with hooves) writhing around in a great big pool of wine. So great was their drunken excess that the Italian Senate eventually stepped in and banned them.
All this left Erica and me wondering what to expect at The Bacchus, in Chester’s Queen Hotel. We left the car at home, just in case.
It being a posh hotel, we were greeted at the door by a Dickensian character in a top hat. He seemed a little perturbed by our early arrival and scurried into the restaurant to fetch a menu – were they cleaning up after the Bacchanalia? I listened intently for the sound of hooves.
No, it turned out we’d managed to book a table for half an hour before the restaurant opened. Either that, or we were a day late. Between us, we were 95% sure I’d said ‘Friday’ on the phone when booking the table – me 90%, Erica 5%.
The mix-up was handled with top-hatted professionalism of which the Romans would have been proud and we were sent to the bar to look at the menu.
Said menu, infuriatingly different from that on the Feathers Group’s website, comprised a tempting array of Continental dishes, with a slightly French bias. Main courses ranged in price from £13.95 to £19.50, typical of a hotel restaurant with a captive audience of well-heeled guests.
After guzzling a Corona and a J20 between us in the bar, we were ushered through. I was immediately struck by the staff-customer ratio – as we were the only diners, it was about 20:2. One waitress showed us to our table, another told us about the specials, a third brought us some delicious complementary sun-dried tomato bread (with, if we were not mistaken, a touch of rosemary). Then, as we were about to order, a man appeared and told us that if we so desired, the head chef would come to our table and carve a side of beef.
We politely declined, for our minds were made up. Erica started with one of the specials, a poached egg in breadcrumbs on a green salad whose blend of mint, spring onion and coriander gave it a Thai feel. It was an interesting combination that worked really well.
I decided on a seafood theme and opened up with a haddock fillet on boiled potatoes, dressed in subtle shades of horseradish. The fish was good and flaky and the sauce a delightful accompaniment, creamy without being too filling.
Entering into the Bacchanalian spirit, I washed it down with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc. What with Erica being pregnant, I was the only one drinking – as such, it was a little frustrating to have to order wine by the glass, as no half-bottles were available.
The setting was certainly very pleasant. Aside from the tasteful interior décor, our table had a close-up view of the hotel’s Roman-style courtyard, complete with giant chess set. (Does anybody actually play giant chess?) It was also nice to have the place to ourselves at the start of the evening but when a large coach party of over-60s soon arrived, it was pleasing to note that the level of service did not deteriorate.
Soon, our main courses were upon us. Erica had chosen butternut squash with asparagus tips on a peppery, sticky risotto from the small vegetarian selection and was soon nodding in approval, particularly with her herby parmesan biscuits.
My sea bass fillets were a daunting prospect, especially served atop crayfish linguini with the creamiest of creamy white wine sauces. Thankfully, there was plenty of flavour there to keep me interested. A particular highlight was the crispiness of the sea bass skin, which contrasted beautifully with the soft pasta.
A small dish of vegetables appeared on our table and we weren’t sure why – they didn’t really suit either my pasta dish or Erica’s risotto. Erica dutifully tried a French bean and thought it could have done with a bit of dressing, though it was fresh and crunchy.
No sooner had we set down our cutlery with a satisfied sigh than yet another waitress arrived to ask if were up to a look at the dessert menu.
I was intrigued by the idea of treacle tart flavoured ice cream, one of a few ‘unique’ flavours of Cheshire Farms’ finest on offer. Sure enough, it did taste just like treacle tart and was one of the highlights of the evening.
Erica, eating for two, made short work of her profiteroles, topped with a slightly bitter dark chocolate sauce, strawberries and raspberry coulis.
The dregs of my second glass of wine and an espresso later, we were ready to take a short walk to the station taxi rank and leave the over-60s to their Bacchanalia and giant chess.
We were well stuffed and the bill reflected this, coming in at £65 for the two of us – the sort of price that, while falling short of making you cough and splutter in astonishment, causes a sharp intake of breath.
Later, I had a look on the Feathers website again and saw that the online menu for the Drawing Room restaurant at the group’s Westminster Hotel, literally a stone’s throw from the Queen, featured many of the same dishes as on the Bacchus website – each costing as much as £4 less.
Now, as I mentioned before, the menu at the Bacchus has changed substantially from the online version, so the same will probably be true of the Drawing Room. But whatever the difference in preparation, presentation or service between the two establishments, was it ever worth an extra 25% or so on the food bill?
You do, however, get what you pay for. From the second we arrived, we were well looked after and treated to an evening of fine food in a lovely setting.
And Roman debauchery was never really my scene anyway.
The Bacchus, Queen Hotel, City Road, Chester CH1 3AH
Tel. 01244 305000
Price: Three courses for two £52.05; drinks £13.45.
Best thing: A pervading sense of luxury, from the food to the setting.
Worst thing: The bill was luxurious too.
Would suit: Anyone who deserves a treat.
Wouldn’t suit: Parties with only one drinker (no half-bottles of wine).