I HAVE to admit that my favourite thing about dining at Franc's is that I get to show off my French accent, honed to a fine 'Je ne sais quoi' during long lectures at university.
 
But before that puts off any linguaphobes, let me reassure you that nine times out of 10 the waitress will be British and I end up looking très stupide.
 
This is not the kind of French restaurant where a snooty -Maitre d' lays a crisp linen napkin on your lap and mutters French expletives under his breath when you use the wrong glass for the water.
 
Rather this is a relaxed, comfortable bistro with the sort of food you rarely find in Chester, at accessible prices you never find in Chester.
 
Tucked away in Cuppin Street, Franc's is just out of sight of Grosvenor Street traffic and unfortunately dwarfed by the Mediterranean chains Ego and La Tasca.
 
But it has a strong local following - not least because if you time your visit well you can get a great deal - this place has more set menus than Paris has lovers.
 
Wander in at lunchtime and you can choose from the plats du jour, all priced at £4.35 and ranging from a poulet salade to an omelette fines herbes.
 
Or combine one of those with a choice between three starters and three desserts and (voila!) you have the £6.95 inclusive lunch menu.
 
If that's all too French for you, have one of the sandwiches (although with a Gallic twist) - from the Croque Monsieur (basically a cheese and ham toastie but don't let on that you know!) to the Steak Grillée.
 
And if you still aren't satisfied, you can also choose from a list of individual starters and mains.

A handy hint for anyone with a Charisma card (free to Chester residents or available to buy from Chester City Council) - you can get a special two for the price of one menu on Monday and Tuesday, costing £14.95 for three courses.
 
On this occasion there was a birthday in the office, so six of us ladies decided to do lunch, and all went for the £6.95 menu.
 
The French always pride themselves on taking a proper lunch break and this three-course menu certainly leaves you well prepared for an afternoon at work.
 
But British office workers beware - two of our party with strict managers had to gobble up their main course and dash back to work. If you are in a hurry, it's probably best to go for a smaller spread or let the staff know when you arrive that you have a deadline.
 
As a starter we had a choice between the salade kandy, the soupe du jour (today, tomato) or the green salad.
 
On a warm day none of us fancied the soup but liked the look of the salade kandy, a fruited couscous with a snappy salsa that was nicely off-set by a serving of soured cream.
 
The green salad is a simple mix of lettuce types but unfortunately came with the same garlic-strong dressing as most of the main courses which became quite overpowering by the end of the meal.
 
After a short wait the main courses arrived. My poisonnettes appeared as three balls of potato, fish flakes and herbs deep fried in a light beer batter.
 
I have had these before, and felt this time they were too oily and the batter was too heavy, but the potato and fish filling was a good texture and flavour and the accompanying salad sharp enough to contrast with the potato.

I learned a new word as Julia ordered her champignons en cocotte - cocotte meaning an oven dish - and the mushrooms were baked in a tomato and tarragon sauce topped with egg and cheese. But she felt the mushrooms were very chewy and the tarragon overpowered the rest of the dish.
 
Liza and Samantha's salade à la greque came with a delicious heap of sliced tomato and feta cheese and, post-wedding, Selena could finally enjoy vast amounts of melted cheese on the croque monsieur.
 
Even Jo, whose allergies often make eating out difficult, found a suitable choice with her salade boeuf, although she was unimpressed with the same dressing as her green salad.
 
Before two of the girls dashed back to the office, we cheekily asked them to order their dessert so the rest of us could have seconds.
 
There was a choice of three dishes - cheese, fruit salad and profiteroles so, with the exception of the dairy intolerant Jo, we all plumped for the deliciously sticky profiteroles.
 
Left with only cheese or fruit salad to choose from, Jo was left picking sadly at bits of apple and pear floating in juice - not the most exciting dessert, but perhaps the price of choosing a set menu.
 
We weren't drinking that day, but there is a suitably extensive French wine list with not a bottle of New World in sight. Prices range from a bottle of house wine at £10.95 to a Fine Fleur 100% Pinot Noir at £36.40.
 
Despite being an average sized terrace building, Franc's pulls off the look of a French bistro or café bar convincingly, avoiding the dodgy overworked themed venue look.
 
Wrought iron features a lot and the obligatory Parisian photos and vintage Pastis advertisements look down on the huge bar, which always reminds me of the café in my favourite French film, Amlie.
 
I also love the huge pile of champagne corks in the front window which grows every time I walk past, conjuring up the mental image of hundreds of romantic dates and extravagant celebrations.
 
During the day the restaurant is quiet, with no music playing (or so quietly I didn't notice it) which makes it perfect for girlie chats over lunch.
 
Aside from the ground floor restaurant there is also a private function room and bar upstairs and, although I have never seen it on a busy night, it seems to have the same relaxed atmosphere as the restaurant.
 
Just watch out as you descend two steep flights of stairs after a Chardonnay or two.
 
Our only complaint about the meal was that we left stinking of garlic and felt self conscious as we headed back to work. I realise it is unrealistic to expect to leave a French restaurant smelling of nothing, but it would have been nice to be offered some mints with the bill.
 
But with six of us dining for little over £50, including drinks, it is hard to pick too many holes in the meal.
 
The food is good, the restaurant is charming and in a city full of Italian and Thai restaurants, Franc's still has much to offer.

Factfile

* Franc's, 14 Cuppin Street, Chester.
* Telephone 01244 317952
* Best thing A great selection of set menus gives you impeccable value for money.
* Worst thing Buy some chewing gum in advance or risk blasting everyone with garlic breath when you leave.
* Would suit Visitors or office workers who want a lunch that isn't pub grub.
* Cost We paid just over £50 for the inclusive three course lunch menu at £6.95 and drinks for six people. Other set menus range from £8.95 to £14.95 and individual dishes are also available.

Feedback > > >

Feedback

IF I TELL you that the main tower of Peckforton Castle lies just about 300 yards from our front door, you can probably imagine that my family and I have had to take an interest in the castle. [Peckforton Castle - last week's review.]
 
We read therefore Jo Henwood's somewhat acerbic report of her meal at the castle with some surprise.
 
The only conclusion that we have been able to come to is that Ms Henwood or her husband are related to the castle's previous owner and that she's jealous because Chris Naylor and his team have been able to achieve in three short months what their predecessor failed to do in several years.
 
That is turn Peckforton Castle into a warm, clean and well-furnished establishment that you will be happy to pay a return visit to.
 
I think that Ms Henwood should pay such a return visit in a few months from now when this newly established team has had a chance to get settled in properly.
 
JEFF SPOONER,
Horsley Lane, Beeston, Tarporley