By Jo Cooksey
More often than not, the restaurants we visit are in the city centre but occasionally we are invited out to the leafy suburbs of Manchester. Such was the case with Barristers in Knutsford, a particular favourite Cheshire town of ours.
Barristers is situated on Toft Road, in what was Knutsford’s old Court House. Designed by distinguished architect, George Moneypenny and built between 1817 and 1819, this impressive, grade II listed Georgian edifice was closed in 2011. Originally part of a larger complex, encompassing the local House of Correction and Prison, the Court House is in the midst of being converted in to a luxury, 50-bedroom hotel by family run, Flat Cap Hotels.
Flat Cap Hotels, run by brothers Dominic and Oliver Heywood, already own The Vicarage Hotel in Holmes Chapel and intend to have a portfolio of at least five properties by 2019. They have committed to restoring the The Court House rather than just refurbishing it and it is set to become one of Cheshire’s most sort after wedding and events venues.
In the meantime, Barrister’s is already up and running under the stewardship of Executive Chef, Stephen Tuke, whose seasonal British menu is proving a hit with customers. Formerly at The Chester Grosvenor and The Oddfellows Hotel, Stephen oversees the food offerings at both The Court House and The Vicarage.
Walking in to the 90-cover restaurant certainly has the wow factor. Housed in what was Court Two, most of the fittings have been left in situ. The central bar area is in what was the witness box and tables are laid out in the jury box, press area and public galleries. The artwork on the walls is an eclectic mix of period paintings, mirrors and some more modern portraits created by artist, James Blankhorn. Depicting modern day icons, such as Steve McQueen and Elvis, in their police mugshots, my companion was particularly taken with one of a Harry Potter character, Sirius Black.
We were greeted by one of the owners, Dominic Heywood, who showed us to a table in the Jury Box and filled us in on the progress of the hotel fit out and the soon to be opened Rooftop Gardens. Our waitress, Becky, went through the menu with us and gave her recommendations and whilst we perused we ordered two gin cocktails. I have to say mine was epic, a combination of Silent Pool Gin and Double Dutch Cucumber & Watermelon mixer.
For starters, I plumped for the Pressing, a terrine of braised ham hock, with a piccalilli sauce, tiny pickled veg, a pork quaver and pea shoots. It was delicious, the meat in the terrine was tender and flavoursome, without being too salty. The piccalilli sauce and pickled veg were delicate, without being overly sharp. My lunch partner chose the Bloomer ‘Shrooms and as lovely as my starter was, hers won hands down. Creamed chestnut mushrooms, perfectly cooked to retain their flavour and firmness, with roasted garlic and served on a slice of toasted bloomer. Perfect comfort food.
On to the mains. Being Sunday lunchtime, we both opted to try a roast, with me having the roast sirloin and t’other one having the roast chicken. Both plates were very generously filled and the meat was accompanied by butter roasted potatoes, celeriac puree, a large Yorkshire pudding, seasonal vegetables, glazed Chantenay carrots, and gravy, with an extra pot on the side. We love a Sunday lunch, I especially love them when someone else does the cooking but let me tell you, this was the best Sunday lunch we have had in a very long time. Both the chicken and the beef were cooked to utter perfection and as for the roast potatoes. I must confess, I’m not a fan of a roast potato but these are on another level. Cooked to Chef Tuke’s secret family recipe, they were crispy on the edges, fluffy in the middle and there were herbs involved. Gorgeous.
Having eaten most of our mains, we were a little on the comfortably stuffed side but there was still a little room for pud. Well, it would be rude not to and we do love a dessert. However, this is where we came slightly unstuck. My second fave pud in the world, (the first being Crème Brulee), is Tiramisu and I admit I do use this as a yardstick to judge a restaurant. Seemingly quite a simple dish but so easy to get wrong. On the menu, it was described as having flavours of coffee, chocolate and sweet vanilla mascarpone, just as it should. However, all I could taste was Amaretto. Now, I love this almond liquor and if the dessert had been described as a mascarpone cheesecake with Amaretto gelato, sprinkled with Amoretti biscuits I would have been quite happy but I wanted Tiramisu. Still, it was very nice.
T’other one ordered trifle and when it arrived it was a deconstructed version, with the jelly, custard and cream in a glass and the sponge on the side. Fine, not a problem but the sponge was warm and this is where my companion and I must agree to disagree. She didn’t like the contrast of the cold elements with the warm sponge but I must say I loved it. It added a new dimension to that age-old family favourite.
We were now well and truly full up and could quite happily have curled up and had a nap. We are already planning on returning to Barristers with the parents and we can’t wait to see the Rooftop Garden and the hotel when it is finished. Although it’s a few miles from where we live it was certainly worth the drive.
We were guests of The Court House but all views and opinions expressed are entirely our own.