AFTER ringing Upstairs At The Grill to book a table I felt more like a secret agent than a journalist.

Confirming by telephone my booking at the Watergate Street steakhouse I was advised to gain entry by locating and ringing a secret buzzer.

Clearly this was an exclusive venue, an opinion confirmed during a visit to the restaurant's web-site, which declared it to be the 'epitome of sophistication'.

I feared pretentiousness, or worse still, delusions of grandeur?

My mission was to discover whether Upstairs At The Grill had the substance to go with its style.

Thankfully, any fears were unfounded; this is an excellent restaurant.

I arrived with my friend 20 minutes later than planned after a drink or two to put us in the mood. The restaurant is located near the junction of St Martins Way, tucked inconspicuously between the Post Office and Guildhall. There are no brash or tacky adornments to the brick exterior.

After my initial surprise at the existence of the secret buzzer, I was somewhat disappointed to find it was not needed.

Instead, the doors were flung open and a friendly hostess welcomed us. Hardly the height of espionage after all.

Leaving behind the sunshine of a warm summer's evening we entered a dark reception area before being led upstairs to the even darker bar area.

The sumptuous setting, boasting comfy leather chairs, was conducive to chilling out while perusing the menu.

There were a handful of other people here, but the low tables were spaced out enough for each to retain privacy.

A super-efficient, ultra-polite waiter handed us each a menu that was vast, both in terms of its physical size and the variety on offer.

There is an impressive choice of beers, whiskies, bourbons, cocktails and wines.

My attention was drawn to a beer from Lapland, the Lapin Kulta, which the menu declared was brewed solely by women.

Intriguing. But alas, when it came to ordering, I was disappointed to be told the beer was unavailable.

Instead, I passed over possibilities from Belgium and Italy to plump for a Furstenburg, 'consistently voted the finest beer in Germany'.

And very good it was too, strong and refreshing.

My friend opted for an orange and lemonade. After choosing our food, it couldn't have been more than 25 minutes before we were ushered back downstairs into a light and airy restaurant area, in stark contrast to the room we left behind.

The restaurant's size was in keeping with the air of exclusivity the place exudes, a bit like the dining room of a stately hotel, the beady eyes of a stuffed stag's head staring across at us from the far end of the room.

Initially, we were the only diners seated, but two other tables were occupied soon after to our immediate side and rear.

We thought that odd considering the unoccupied tables further along; there was potential for greater privacy given that this seemed a reasonably quiet night.

Starters had thrown up possibilities including soup, salads, king scallops, confit of duck leg, duck egg and smoked haddock ravioli.

I had gone for the Five-Spiced Pork Belly with bok choi and Oriental dressing.

It was, quite simply, delicious; perfect meat sitting in a wonderfully rich, sweet, yet spicy sauce.

My companion, who had opted for the French Onion Soup with gruýère cheese crouton, similarly had no regrets.

Steaks have a section of their own on the menu, and you can choose from: Fillet of Beef, Sirloin, Porterhouse, Chateau-briand, Delmonico, or Prime Welsh Black Fillet.

Sizes start at 8oz, but you can go as hefty as a 24oz with the Porterhouse at a correspondingly weighty price of £27.50.

The menu offers a bewildering, yet welcome, guide to how you should ask for the meat to be done.

If you thought it was as simple as rare, medium or well done, think again.

You can ask for blue, i.e, cold and raw, rare, medium rare, medium, medium well done or well done.

My friend had tested the water with a basic 8oz medium well done fillet steak and chosen a garlic and herb sauce and home cut chips as her side dishes.

She was not disappointed, describing the meat as tender and succulent.

I had decided to check out one of the other six main courses, among them corn-fed chicken supreme, pan-fried red snapper, and roast rump of lamb.

But it was the Gressingham duck breast with pomme fondant and a cabbage ball stuffed with foie gras - duck liver, which I looked forward to, after making short work of my starter.

The slices of duck were beautifully cooked and the foie gras cabbage ball an interesting accompaniment.

For my side order I tried the home-cut chips, which were large, chunky and bursting with flavour.

We had decided not to gamble on having enough room for a dessert and that seemed a wise decision.

After the meal we were led back up to the bar to finish and supplement our drinks, unwind, and let the hearty meal go down, before finding out the damage.

We both had reason to visit our respective toilets on the way out and, comparing notes, I was intrigued to discover that while the men's had been something akin to a log cabin - hardly in keeping with the restaurant as a whole - my companion described the women's as 'space age'.

That though seemed a mere minor aside after two fine courses of quality, fresh food, served by helpful, attentive staff. A triumph then, for style AND substance. Whoever said a little sophistication must equal pretentiousness?

Location: Upstairs At The Grill, 70 Watergate Street, Chester, CH1 2LA.

Telephone: 01244 344883 - booking essential. www.upstairsatthegrill.co.uk  

Price: £66.50 for two starters, two mains and drinks.

Best Thing: Good fresh food, decent portions, polite staff.

Worst Thing: Unusual toilets.

Would Suit: Couples rather than families.