Down the road from the Duke of Westminster’s estate in Cheshire is the Grosvenor Arms. It is set in an imposing but decorative red brick building, indicative of the architecture belonging to most of the buildings owned by the Grosvenor family in that part of the world.
While I quite like the building’s appearance, its landlords are a little more dubious. The pub is run by Brunning and Price who run a collection of pubs around the North West and a handful in the South. Their website about the history of the pub includes some quite scathing yet comic blurb about the appearance of the building. It reads: “… the building is not that great- it was designed by a famous local Victorian architect called John Douglas. People rave about his work and there are all sorts of societies and individuals devoted to preserving the buildings he designed, but Jerry [Brunning] for one thinks he was an architectural vandal. He destroyed many of the fine medieval buildings in and around Chester in the name of progress, re-facing them with fake black and white timbering and often simply demolishing the original. His designs are made to look good from the outside but are often impractical, with windows you can’t see out of and doors in the wrong place.”
It goes on to read: “…the Victorians were generally arrogant when it came to building, believing that the past was worthless and just had to be replaced with the new and the modern. It all happened again in the 60’s…”
I quite like Brunning and Price’s approach to PR. It feels refreshing and honest. It is certainly different to what typical pub chains offer with their fancy websites, worn down Chesterfield sofas and gilded mirrors. Brunning and Price appear to be saying that they don’t think their pub looks that great, but come along if you fancy it.
Self promotion doesn’t seem to be high on their agenda. Aside from a link to a menu, there is no mention of food on the opening page of the website which seems a crying shame because I have had consistently great meals every time I have visited. In truth, this gastro pub has a fantastic selection of dishes for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. The vegetarians dishes on offer here are not afterthoughts but interesting and well thought-out meals.
To start I had a Blacksticks blue cheesecake with walnut, grape and apple salad. Blacksticks blue cheese is a Lancashire blue cheese that is very similar in appearance and taste to the more famous Shropshire blue. The savoury cheesecake had a very thick texture with a tough base but was tasty. The cheese was not too over powering and since it was quite rich, the small portion was just about right for a starter. The acidity from the apple salad offset the cheesecake wonderfully – as these age old tried and tested flavour combinations should.
For my main course, I had an gruyere, spinach and olive cakes with a walnut crust on a butterbean casserole. I was a little worried that my starter and main dish might be similar as both were described as a ‘cake’ and both contained walnuts. But the two dishes were very different.
The gruyere, spinach and olive cakes were two tennis ball sized spheres that had been deep fried with a crispy coating. When I cut into them, they were wonderfully gooey. I was continuously spinning my fork around wrapping up the stringy gruyere cheese which picked up small fragments of olives with every twist. The walnut crust wasn’t particularly nutty but nonetheless crunchy and satisfying.
What I really liked was the lovely stew they were perched upon made from sweet red peppers and butterbeans in a tomato sauce. It was perfect for a cold and frosty November lunchtime.
A slight downside to the meal were the little red peppers we had ordered to nibble on before our starters arrived. These were very disappointing as they were the straight out of the jar – exactly like the stuffed peppers you can buy from any supermarket, covered in oil. The four tiny stuffed peppers looked a little sad in their bowl, especially considering they cost £4.25 which is certainly more than a full jar would cost from a shop. I’m not really sure what the chef has in mind offering these tiny pre-bought morsels at such an extortionate price. But this small point didn’t put me off what was otherwise a wonderful and very filling meal.
So – unless you have a particular adversity to John Douglas’s architecture, the Grosvenor Arms is a fail-safe gastro pub set in beautiful countryside with great options for vegetarians. While it is quite a large pub, I would highly recommend booking before you go as it can get rather busy. After all, “the locals are very fond of it” despite its “ungainly” appearance.
Tel: 01244 620228