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Moules a Go-Go, Chester

WHAT'S in a name? Well, everything, if you think about it.

WHAT'S in a name? Well, everything, if you think about it. I've walked past Moules a Go-Go for years and been put off by the image of the one fruit de mer, on which I'm not keen, linked with the descriptive image of rather a seedy 1970s disco.

Oops! Got it badly wrong.

The first mistake was phoning on Sunday to book for the next night.

"Don't worry," said a voice. "We've only got two booked in so far." Arriving on Monday night at eight and we barely squeezed in to this obviously popular Franco-Belgian brasserie. The place was busy, buzzing, alive. It's bright, light and welcoming and the waiting staff pay attention to diners. Menus arrived promptly and drinks orders were taken straight away.

"Don't have the beer, though," said three men at the next table. "It tastes of chemicals."

We were only curious as all three were confronted by glasses which looked like something I'd managed to smash when let loose in my school chemistry laboratory.

We didn't take their advice and ordered strong Belgian beers as aperitifs. The choice is wide and, according to the manager, the restaurant is the only place in Chester to serve such brands.

Choose beers, for example, from White, Trappist, fruit, strong - with alcohol content equivalent to table wine - or Abbey ales. But try to keep a straight face when asking for a Bush and a Kwak.

Mark chose a Bush. "It's sweet, just like barley wine," he said, "and, fortunately, it's in 250ml glasses. Have a pint and you'd be on your back."

My Kwak? I'm not a beer drinker, but enjoyed its hoppy taste. It came, too, in that creation from the chemistry lab, a glass thing held in, practically, a large test tube holder.

We'd ordered wine, too. A slight criticism was it arrived too quickly. As a result we had a table covered with glasses and bottles - a little dipsomaniac.

The Sicilian wine, a sangoviese syrah combination from the Familia Sacco vineyard, was opened before it got to the table, unfortunately, which always makes us a little suspicious. It was a full-bodied, sunny vintage and we found it impressive for a young wine: bottled in 1999, it contained none of the bitter tannins sometimes associated with juvenile wines.

Too much about drink, though. The fact is the food was wonderful, even if we were a little fazed by the menu. So much, and so different from what is on offer in Chester.
The starters, themselves, presented a challenge. Thai crevettes, fromage chaud or peppered chicken, to name just a few possibilities.

I went for Singapore crab, a deceptively filling tower block of flaked blue fin crab, with spicy avocado, tomato, coriander and apple. It was a spectacular presentation and quite a wonderful fusion of tastes.

Mark's Mediterranean sardines were, he said, "rather disappointingly bony".

"Don't be put off by that," he added. "That's the wimpy Brit talking. Perhaps they should have been cooked a little more to soften the bones. But they're served on toast with a wonderful Hollandaise sauce. That more than compensates for any tiny shortcomings."

For main course we could have chosen four varieties of chicken or mussels cooked in a variety of ways and served in kilo pots, or steamed and served in half shells with a variety of complements, vegetarian, or a stunning selection of fish and seafood.

Mark chose Thai Red Snapper, which he said was "firm, juicy and meaty". It was sufficiently spicy and far from bland. Not even he was reaching for the salt pot.

My lamb shank was one of the best I've had in years, and that from someone who is not a big meat eater. It was tender, juicy and, almost, too much. It was also served on a bed of Belgian mash with mixed vegetables and an onion jus.

The vegetables were just enough and a sufficient variety to sustain interest. Rich, yes, but overpowering? Definitely not!

We did note that there were numerous bowls of frites being served. Well, maybe. But we'd seriously have struggled if presented with these additional offerings.

Oh, and the desserts! Belgian restaurant? Well, chocolate, of course. And lots of waffles. I did ask for Spotted Richard but they'd sold out. I, therefore, went for a lemon tarte which was perfectly acceptable, though a little ordinary for someone denied the chocolate.

Mark's selection of honey ice cream and what looked like a far-too-generous helping of Belgian chocolate ice cream soon departed this world, though I did get a small taste of something quite wonderful.

We finished with a couple more drinks. Mark chose another beer.

"I'm back in the Bush," he commented, "and it's a decent beer. A strong, sweet beer is not a British thing. But it goes so well with a sweet. Ice cream and beer? Yes, I think so."

I chose apricot genevers - something I've tasted many times in the Netherlands, but never the Belgian version of flavoured gin. It's perfectly acceptable. Thankfully, there is a train back from Chester!

Details: Moules a Go-Go, 39-41 Watergate Row, Chester.

Tel: 01244 348818. Fax: 01244 3478605.

E-mail: moules@cybase.co.uk

Website: www.moulesagogo.co.uk

Open: Monday-Friday 12noon-3pm, lunch, 6pm-10 dinner.
          Saturday, 12noon-10pm; Sunday 12noon-9pm.

Ambience: Bright, lively.

Disabled access: OK. Wheelchairs can negotiate rows from Commonhall Street. But toilets are up a long flight of stairs.

Value for money: Good, considering quality and quantity.

Menu: Extensive and imaginative. Vegetarians well catered for.

The Bill

Two beers: £6.90
Sardines: £3.95
Crab: £4.45
Snapper: £10.95
Lamb: £9.95
Ice cream: £3.25
Lemon tarte: £3.95
Bottle of wine: £13.95
Beer: £3.50
Genever: £1.50

Total: £62.35


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