Sunday, 19 February 2012

Review: Joseph Benjamin, Chester

For regular readers or northern dwellers, I have to sadly, and almost painfully, point out that Joseph Benjamin is not in Newcastle. It's not anywhere even close to Newcastle, so if you are reading this hoping for somewhere delicious go to next weekend, you should look away now.

It is painful to note this, because Joseph Benjamin is so close to perfect that it isn't fair for it to be this far away from me. It is what I long for in Newcastle, to the point where on slow afternoons I unwisely daydream about opening a place like this myself.

Located in Chester city centre, Joseph Benjamin is a cafe, restaurant and deli all rolled into one. You could pop in for a quick coffee and a sandwich, pick up a loaf of freshly baked focaccia, or sit down to a lavish 3 course lunch or dinner. It panders to the 'ladies that lunch clique' and it does it so effortlessly well. The owners, brothers Joe and Ben (do you see what they did there) are on the floor, taking orders and give it that unique personable feel that so few places manage to capture.

Take home bread counter + book shelf

I had pressed my nose up to the windows and gawked in like a small child in a bakery with jealous longing on a previous trip to Chester, so when a lunch was proposed whilst visiting the other half's family I was quietly pleased. My stomach was not so quietly growling with anticipation.

Joseph Benjamin's delicious menu
There were some very tempting things on the menu; it is centred on 4 starters and 4  mains which are a mix of traditional methods and clever flavours as well as a couple of comfort food 'staples'. I lusted after the Chicken Breast with a fricassee of Queen Scallops and Celeriac, equally I fancied a platter of local cheeses and hams and again could have had a dalliance with the half chicken and gravy, but in the end went for the Seafood Chowder off the specials board.

Joseph Benjamin, Seafood Chowder

Hands down the best thing i've eaten so far this year. A rich, deep tomato, dill and saffron sauce, chunky meaty cod cheeks, flakes of succulent whiting and some gorgeously fresh mussels. It was warming, wholesome but so very refined. I could have eaten 10 bowls of it. And it came with 2 different types of freshly made bread to mop up the flavoursome juices.

Other dishes were equally as good, also from the specials menu was a Truffled Lambs Heart with Lamb Steak and Red Cabbage which the other half devoured like a hungry wolf. The steak was perfectly cooked and the heart was beautifully tender

Joseph Benjamin, Truffled Lambs Heart Special

The Half Chicken and Gravy fulfilled all it's promises of being perfect comfort food, a large white jug supplying lashings to thick meat juices. Lord, I'm salivating thinking about it.

Joseph Benjamin, Half Chicken, Chips and Gravy 
Finished with coffees and brownies, I left with a pleasing warm feeling. Not just because of my very full belly, but because everything about the place was absolutely spot on. Attentive, well mannered service and an establishment that so obviously put real care and effort into everything they were doing, from the sourcing of the food to the friendly staff. The decor was neutral, slate grays and creams, smart yet relaxed wooden furniture, minimal yet unpretentious. It gave me everything I want from eating out.

Newcastle establishments, take note and give me something like this.

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