WE MIGHT almost have been dropped into a series of game shows. Ciro's, we were told, was the place to go in Chester.
But, for Chester read Pulford, well south of the city. And, in true Anneka Rice and Treasure Hunt style, we drove past a few times before we found the place. If someone had said the Grosvenor Arms in Pulford, we'd have found it straightaway.
It's a familiar watering hole on a Sunday afternoon in summer, a great place for a bar meal and a drink and the prices are reasonable.
Yet that's another story. Get into the place and then try to find Ciro. We decided to ask at the bar.
But, ah, so obvious. Through two sets of double doors right at the back of the pub, veer right and you're there. If everything were that simple, especially if a restaurant is looking for business.
When we actually found the place, things did improve, though we were left waiting at restaurant reception a fair while before anyone took notice.
Once through the interrogation as to whether we had a room number we were assigned a table.
And then Mark started sniffing. "Chlorine," he said. "It smells of swimming pool."
He may be hypersensitive in the nasal department, but he was right.
The aroma pervaded the whole restaurant. A quick wander once we'd paid the bill proved the point.
There's an extensive gym attached, which explained why there was a procession of flush-faced, wet-haired, fit-looking young men walking through the restaurant every five minutes or so.
That apart, this is a superb place. It's light and airy, conceived as an open-air Italian venue. There's a glass roof and a range of trees and other plants which give an air of being al fresco.
Chairs and tables are fashioned out of wrought iron and there's a spacious feel to the whole place.
Once we sat down, we were asked if we wanted drinks and chose to wait awhile when looking at the menu. The wine list is far from extensive but hugely well chosen.
Add to that some beautifully presented bread - for which we did not ask - and pureed black olives and some lemon mayonnaise. What a way to go.
Save for the accompaniment of the Gypsy Kings.
"If this lot got a royalty for every time they play in a British restaurant," said Mark, "they'd never need to pluck a string again."
Agreed. Silence, please. Mark immediately settled on fresh sardines for starter only to be told they were off. Good start.
They were replaced by Morecambe Bay shrimps, sauteed on a bed of Welsh rarebit. Maybe not.
Mark had salivated over fresh sardines and they had swum away. Instead, he had timbale of snow crab mousse. That was a special, along with baked avocado, stuffed with crab meat and topped with Parmesan cheese.
I chose crostini of chicken livers, which were rich and succu-lent. In this, there was a clever combination of sweet and savoury. The sauce was quite beautiful, almost a meal in itself.
Once Mark's arrived, he was well pleased. "Wonderfully tasty," he suggested. "Just like you used to get out of a paper by the sea-side. It's wonderfully presented and tastes brilliant."
Was that the wine talking? As we were beginning to eat, the wine arrived: a Mazzolada Pinot Grigio. "I'm getting sweet, pink grapefruit," said Mark. "It's crisp, light and highly refreshing."
Our mains arrived promptly, Mark's Moroccan style lamb shank, served with a fruit cous cous, turned baby vegetables and a rich aromatic jus.
"I've got a family joint just to myself," he explained. "It's a touch on the salty side but it is wonderful. The rice is spicy and the meat tender to the point of destruction."
I chose Bouillabaise - fish stew. It arrived, beautifully presented, in an earthenware pot. Red hot. And it went on for ever. The fish was brilliant.
But unshelled prawns at nuclear heat was not good. They cannot be handled, they cannot be de-shelled with standard knives and forks, there was no finger-bowl, no napkin. If not prepared, you ended up a charred mess.
For dessert, we rather copped out. The selection is very good indeed, but we could manage little. We went for shared apple and cinnamon charlotte with a cider sorbet. Except they forgot. We sat for ages and then had to scoff it all too quickly.
Good place, yes. Would we return? Maybe.
Ciro's Brasserie, The Grosvenor Pulford Hotel, Wrexham Road, Pulford, Chester
Telephone: 01244 570560
Ambience: Quietly al fresco
Value for money: Reasonable
Service: Fairly slow at times
Disabled access: Full access.
Parking: Very easy. Plenty of space.
The Bill: £60.05 including a bottle of Mazzolada Pinot Grigio at £15.