Hotel Review: Adobe Chester
Published: March 2012
What could be better at the end of a long week than unwinding on a train, the green landscape rolling by like a diorama, the sun shining, and my first visit to Chester ahead of me? Shocking eh? Me, a student of Roman history, setting foot for the first time in one of Roman Britain’s most important settlements. What a pretty place it is but this wasn’t my first time at an Abode hotel. Having sampled Manchester’s branch of the boutique chain (see March 2011 – I’m returning to cast my eye over a refurb in a few months’ time), I was happy to accept an invite to what proved to be a whole new world.
For those who know Chester, Roman founding and all, with its medieval shopping centre bursting with half-timbered buildings, “new” might seem an inappropriate adjective, but very new is what Abode Chester is; a new build on a very old site. And “better than that bloody awful 60s police station that was there” as the taxi driver put it. He was referring to the local constabulary headquarters that was demolished in 2006. Abode opened in 2009. But like the city, the site goes back further. Upper class Romans called the place home, and artefacts they left behind, discovered during the construction of the old cop shop, are nicely displayed streetside. A Benedictine abbey followed in the Middle Ages.
Whether or not what’s there now is an improvement is a matter of taste. It’s a circular building in glass and red sandstone, split into two half circles with a courtyard in the middle. One half of the build is council offices, the other, hotel. It’s clean, contemporary, you may think characterless. There are certainly echoes of the European Parliament Building in Strasbourg, but there’s no arguing that from the inside it works with a few surprises thrown in.
Reception is small and has a distinct office feel but that’s as far as the negs go. Rooms are wonderfully bright and airy; spic span modernism in the white walls, splashes of contemporary taste in the aqua furnishings, and a retro nod in the brown cushions. The superb Abode functionality is very much present – steam iron, ironing board, free wifi, ipod dock, and even Blu Ray player! Toiletries are courtesy of Arran Aromatics. Everything feels spanking new and I urge the property to keep an eye on maintaining that. Large windows provide oodles of light and even though the hotel is only 5 stories high, because it isn’t crowded by other builds, there’s a real sense of scope.
On the ground floor there’s a bar, a bit dark for me, it’s obviously designed with an eye to the evenings, though on a sunny Saturday, a flurry of outdoor furniture proved popular with punters. The casual cafe bar at the rear ground level has an attractive conservatory and outside seating in the central courtyard. Evoking the Roman past, the space is meant to remind us of an ancient circus.
The real eye popping space is on the fifth floor where the signature Michael Caines Restaurant and Champagne Bar has become a popular local hangout. In a short time, it’s become one of Chester’s top eateries. The big plus is the large windows with spectacular views of Chester Racecourse, Europe’s oldest. And there’s a wrap around terrace where you can have a drink whilst gazing across at the mountains of north Wales; breathtaking.
The Champagne Bar serves not only its title beverage but also a range of house and classic cocktails, many of which come in at a reasonable £7.75; hats off to a wonderful staff, particularly David behind the bar, and Luca the restaurant manager.
The dining room is another well-lit space doused in contemporary gravitas by dark woods, brown and cream upholstery, and ranks of slim vertical mirrors. Service is spot on and Nick O’Callaghan must be one of the most approachable, enthusiastic sommeliers I’ve ever come across. Take a tip – opt for the tasting menu at £68 upgraded with matching wines to £105 and put yourself in Nick’s hands. Let loose your sense of adventure and let him expand your horizons by going off-menu with some exciting, unlikely wine choices.
The tasting menu changes regularly, some dishes are on a weekly turnaround so regulars are always offered something new. A plus for hotel guests is that the “£24 for 3 courses” menu available to visitors only up to 7pm, is available to them all evening – great value.
I waded into the 8 course taster and in my opinion, Head Chef Stuart Collins has the edge on his Manchester counterpart. He exhibits great, joyous cooking though I felt the char-grilled Lake District Farmers Beef Sirloin was a bit of a stumble, not as rare as I think rare should be. The accompanying Santenay “Les Champs Claude” 2008, Domaine Marc Collin however was a star displaying clear cherry with lively spice, mature fruit and great elegance.
Top of the solid offering was pressed duck liver terrine with elderflower and apricot marmalade, popped quinoa and toasted brioche. The overall vibe was sweet and clingy, like a bad partner you can’t get enough of, but the marmalade was a revelation; chewy consistency, with waves of sage, hugely jammy and a bit of a diva. It really gave the terrine a run for its money.
The combo of good eating and even better sleeping is a winner at Abode Chester, and personally, I like the contrast between the historic town and this very contemporary property. It’s certainly a great base for getting your head around both the past and the present. I’ll be back.
Hotel Review: Adobe Chester
Gareth has been with TRAVEL CHANNEL since its launch in 1994. He has produced and presented on TRAVEL LIVE and THE TRAVEL BUG, produced ESSENTIAL... and reports on TRAVEL TODAY. He is a regular contributor to the website. In 2010 he produced the hit series THE HOLIDAY SHOW which he also co-presented with Ginny Buckley. Gareth’s passions are history, culture, food & drink.