They say you have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince. With my wedding drawing ever nearer, I was quite confident that my frog days, so to speak, were well and truly over. Not quite so, it transpired.
I found Frogg Manor Hotel on the internet. Situated a few miles outside Chester, just off the A41, I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it before from the many ‘foodies’ in my office. Intrigued, my Prince and I decided to go for an early Valentine’s Day meal.
From the sample menus offered on the hotel’s website, I knew we’d be in for a treat. Both main menus offered starter, main, dessert, coffee and chocolates for an inclusive price; we went for the standard menu at £28.35 a head.
Further online research revealed the hotel described itself as: ‘Unashamedly bourgeois, eccentric, original and quintessentially English. But not for all tastes.’
‘I wonder why it’s not for all tastes,’ I said as we trundled up the drive toward what I could tell was an impressive manor house, even in the dark.
While we waited at the reception desk, I noticed several food award certificates hung among the various pictures and ornaments dotted all over the walls.
Oh, and the frogs.
It was a ranidaphobic’s nightmare – frogs everywhere; still, it was in keeping with the name of the place.
We were directed to the upstairs lounge. I led the way and was met at the top of the stairs by Bubbles – not a frog but a tiny Yorkshire terrier who good-naturedly chased us to our sofa before dashing into the back room.
Our host, who resembled the mad professor out of Back to the Future, took our drinks order (a glass of medium dry white wine, £4.75, and a coke, £1.50) and left us with the menus.
After some deliberation, I chose grilled mild goat’s cheese to start followed by French trimmed free-range chicken, while my Prince selected freshly-made winter vegetable soup and cote du boeuf locally-sourced prime rib eye steak, which carried a £10 supplement – a little steep, we thought.
The Professor returned with our drinks and sporting a black hat. He informed us all dishes were prepared from fresh so to allow about half an hour before eating. We weren’t in a rush, contrary to the rumblings emanating from our stomachs.
I relaxed on the sofa, stretched my legs out and felt something squidgy beneath my foot.
It was a frog. I should have known by now not to be surprised. Luckily, it was a toy beanbag frog that suffered no ill effect from my stiletto heel.
We were literally surrounded by them – pictures, ornaments, stuffed toy frogs – you name it, there was a frog version/equivalent of it.
Original it most certainly was.
We had the restaurant to ourselves and shared our table with – yes, you guessed it – two frog statues dressed as tourists, complete with cameras.
Seated in the conservatory area there was, I imagined, a lovely view across the grounds – but on a cold February evening, we had to make do with twinkling fairy lights and the dim view of a dovecot.
I made a mental note to return in the summer.
Our starters arrived promptly and my goat’s cheese oozed invitingly over the toasted brioche, surrounded by rocket and a compote of fresh redcurrants. Reluctantly, I exchanged a taste of my starter for a spoonful of the Prince’s soup – we deduced it contained squash and parsnip among other vegetables – and it was delicious, as was the goat’s cheese.
We ordered a bottle of house white (£14) to accompany our food and water was provided on the table.
Having made light work of our starters, our mains arrived after a short interval. I felt a little sorry for our frog companions, who looked longingly from the windowsill, cameras poised.
And our main courses were more than worthy of being captured on film.
My chicken was sat on mash and was served with sugar snap peas, bacon and a chestnut, mushroom and black pepper sauce. I am not normally a fan of mash but this was creamy, light and fluffy and perfectly suited to soak up the rich mushroom and black pepper sauce. The chicken was tender, moist and full of flavour.
Our dishes arrived on giant dinner plates, more for presentation than necessity – except in the Prince’s case. His plate was just large enough to accommodate what I can only, and rather ungraciously, describe as a table tennis bat-sized prime rib eye steak.
He generously allowed me to sample the meat, cooked medium and in a brandy and wild mushroom sauce, which melted on my tongue and left me wanting more – it was outstanding and well worth the £10 supplement (which we noticed we weren’t charged when looking at the receipt the next day).
Chunky hand-cut chips and a rocket salad with a spicy vinaigrette accompanied the steak.
I nipped to the toilet before dessert and, after getting a little lost, I found it near a large toy frog dressed as a policeman.
As I returned, the Professor was seating a party of six next to the two couples who had arrived not long after us.
He’d removed the hat but was still dressed in evening trousers, shirt open at the neck but minus the jacket and bow tie and walking around minus his shoes – eccentric was an understatement.
Although rather full, we eagerly surveyed the desserts. The Prince was disappointed to learn that the chocolate tart was off the menu but decided on warm date and sultana pudding with toffee sauce over the cheese and biscuits. I chose white chocolate mousse with berries.
My mousse was sandwiched between two butter shortbread biscuits with a strawberry sauce and fresh berries. It was a melt-in-the-mouth chocolate delight.
I was so absorbed in my dessert, I hadn’t noticed something was up with the Prince.
‘It’s just… it’s just … it’s just…’ he kept repeating. ‘It’s just what?’ I asked. He answered by pushing a large spoonful of sponge pudding drizzled with toffee sauce toward me. As he said, it was just… amazing.
We bid farewell to our frog friends and went back upstairs. We were too full for coffee but managed the after-dinner chocolates (frog-shaped, of course, and filled with mint cream).
Noseying around the lounge, I came across a box of dominoes and we played a few rounds while we digested. I won, despite what the Prince may say…
Frogg Manor Hotel, Nantwich Road, Broxton, Chester CH3 9JH
Tel no: 01829 782629, website: www.froggmanor
Total cost: £76.95 for two people, food: £28.35 per head for three courses, including coffee, drink: £20.25 inc. a coke, glass of wine and bottle of wine
Best thing: Outstanding food in a unique, quirky environment
Worst thing: Some alcoholic drinks a little expensive (175ml glass of wine £4.75, gin & tonic – £7)
Would suit: People prepared to pay for good quality food and who enjoy a bit of nostalgia
Wouldn't suit: Those in a hurry, or with an aversion to frogs