Dinner At Chez Jules French Restaurant In Chester
Mummy Bird, me and The Man were having a little change of scenery from the ‘shire, over in the beautiful, historic city of Chester. His Nibs and I have been here before (and love it) but this was Mummy Bird’s first time and, as we wandered round the city before we checked in to our hotel, her face was filled with wonder at some of the architecture. We did do a little shopping, but we were visiting the Cheshire Oaks outlet the following day so we didn’t do too much.
After a smooth check-in at The Queen’s Hotel we all headed up to our rooms, showered and changed for dinner and headed out to the restaurant we’d selected, Chez Jules. Originally this building was the city’s purpose-built fire station; it then became the law court in 1971 before reaching its current incarnation in 1997 under owner Jason Ellison. A daily-changing, seasonal menu keeps things fresh for regular diners and stays true to the French Bistro culture, as well as ensuring the produce is at its tastiest.
Photo from Chez Jules Facebook Page
Clearly, Chez Jules is a popular eaterie with locals; the place was absolutely buzzing when we sat down at 6.30pm, and a steady stream of folks kept coming through the doors well into the evening! Inside, Chez Jules has that wonderfully stylish Gallic charm to it; faded prints on the walls, warm toned lighting and smartly set tables with colourful blown-glass oil burners on them for added ambience. Our table had a superb view of the open kitchen, so not only did we get all the aromas hitting our nostrils, we also got to see Chef in action: he runs a tight ship, let me tell you!
The wine list is pretty swish, as you would expect, and we ordered a bottle of Viognier – this soon came over and was tried (and approved by The Man); as well as the wine, we were brought a large bottle of chilled water for the table. We fancied some nibbles to pick at whilst we made our meal choices, so some bread and mixed olives were also winging their way out to us.
To start, I chose Crispy Frog Legs with Aioli (£6.95); Mummy had the Smoked Mackerel Pâté with Crème Fraiche and Radish Salad (£6.25) and His Nibs went for the French Onion Soup with Gruyere Crouton (£6.95).
I don’t know why so many people have a problem with Frog Legs; the flesh really does taste (and look) like chicken. They look like a skinny, elongated chicken wing in my humble opinion; a golden, deep fried one! Anyhow, the quartet of scrummy morsels was absolutely delicious: succulent and moist with a mild creamy flavour that had me smiling happily. I loved the wickedly crunchy crumb coating too, it had been well seasoned and gave a distinct noise as I bit into it.
Only the French could manage to make a pale coloured, moist and loose textured fish pâté look remotely sexy! At Chez Jules the Mackerel Pâté has a luscious glisten to it that the Crème Fraiche tries to match; it doesn’t, but when you pair them together the flavour combination is marvellous. Tangy slices of Radish add a sharp peppery note to the party as well as imparting a flash of colour to this classic starter offering.
The same goes for The Man Birds’ choice, soup; it’s a bowl of dark brown liquid with slices of Caramelised Onion in for goodness’ sake! How on earth do you make that look attractive? Clearly, Chef has a trick-or-two up his sleeve (or under his hat!) because it looks surprisingly inviting, and judging by the speed at which His Nibs was ploughing through it, it was bloody tasty as well! When he’d finished paddling/spooning it into his eager mouth (I actually thought he was going to tip the bowl up too!), The Man said it was beautifully rich in flavour, nicely seasoned and very satiating.
One of the team had checked we were enjoying our starters, but it was a different member who cleared the plates and bowls away. Actually, one of the things that we all commented on was how well the team were working together. There were a couple of chaps in charge overall, making sure that no diners were left waiting for long and then it was down to the servers to go round all the tables, delivering a great experience. This meant that everyone was pulling their weight and not just dealing with their own ‘section’ which is often the case in other venues (usually chains, rather than independents, it should be said).
All three of us ordered our mains from the ‘plats de resistance’ section of the menu, which all come with a pan of seasonal vegetables and gratin Dauphinoise Potatoes unless stated to the contrary. I honestly thought His Nibs would’ve gone for a steak, but no, he chose the slow-cooked Lamb Shoulder with a Petit Pois, Lamb and Mint reduction, priced £19.95.
I swear that the second The Man lifted the cutlery from the table, the Lamb just fell apart – it was so incredibly tender with a beautiful depth of flavour to it that had His Nibs grinning in delight. The reduction formed a moat around the meat, making it easy for The Man to scoop it up with chunks of Lamb at each bite, and he loved the gentle herb hint within the liquid.
Mummy Bird couldn’t resist the lure of the Beef Bourguignon, £13.95: slow cooked pieces of Beef cooked with Shallots, Mushrooms, Bacon, Thyme and Red Wine. I’m salivating as I type this, so you can imagine the scene IRL at Chez Jules!! A really nice touch was that the lovely chap served the first spoonfuls from the pot carefully onto Mummy’s plate and urged her to tuck in and enjoy. The beef was utterly glorious, so soft and tender that it melted on the tongue and the shallots imparted a gentle sweetness on the palate. Thyme and Red Wine is a match made in heaven, culinary-wise, so they danced confidently in the mouth and bound the other elements together seamlessly.
For a moment I wavered in my choice between the Confit Duck Leg or the Baked Cod with Mustard crust, and Spring Cabbage and Bean Cassoulet (both £18.95).It was the fish that won out though, and as I took the first bite I was glad that it had triumphed; it was mesmerising. The large loin of Cod was incredibly sweet tasting and firm textured enough that it didn’t just flake apart in small pieces when cut into, and the tang of the Mustard balanced the fish’s natural flavour superbly well. There’s something intrinsically happy about a Cassoulet; I’m not sure whether it’s to do with the earthy, comforting colours of the beans or the memories that get associated with this type of comfort food, but whatever the reason, I couldn’t hold back my joy.
For the three of us, the vegetables came on a large black skillet and it’s fair to say that Chez Jules don’t skimp on their portions with the accompaniments either. Caraway seeded Carrots, fine Green Beans, and Red Cabbage all nestled happily alongside the creamy, garlic-pimped Dauphinoise and we all dove in with abandon!
I was a particular fan of the gently anise taste of Caraway and I thought that it went marvellously with the sweet earthiness of the carrot as well as adding a bit of crunch. Lots of things make me smile (I’m a natural optimist) so no surprise when I say that the squeak of perfectly cooked Green Beans made me grin like a Cheshire cat – they did also have a lovely natural taste. His Nibs is a relative newcomer to the treasure that is Red Cabbage, but his inexperience does not equate to his enjoyment of it: he was piling it onto his plate! Mummy Bird and His Nibs are spudophiles, so the bulk of the Dauphinoise went on their plates but the portion I had was intensely tasty and I savoured every bite.
Needless to say, there wasn’t much that went begging between the trio of plates – and His Nibs and I did save that sacred space that’s reserved exclusively for pudding! Mummy Bird said that she would sneak bits from His Nibs and I as she hadn’t quite got room for another course of her own. I ordered the Tarte au Citron (£5.95) with Crème Fraiche for dessert, whilst The Man went for the Dark and White Chocolate Delice with White Chocolate Soil (£6.95).
My Tarte was simply presented: the triangle of sunny hued Tarte was accompanied by a creamy quenelle of Crème Fraiche, with a whole fresh Raspberry for a pop of vibrant colour to contrast against the citrus tones. The pastry was just sublime: thin, buttery and totally moreish – it let the bouncy flavour of the Lemon shine through on the palate, which is just what you want. Creme Fraiche has a gentle sourness at its periphery that lends it to desserts with a zingier flavour far better than the mellow flavour of cream itself, and it did its job brilliantly.
The style award has to go to the chic, dual layered delight of the delice; the contrasting tones of the two chocolate layers were amazing to behold and His Nibs took a moment to appreciate its beauty. You don’t need me to describe the mellow creaminess of the White chocolate or the decadent cocoa hit from the dark variety, I know you are imagining it for yourselves and can ‘taste’ it in your mouths!! It was a bit special, I have to say.
Throughout the evening, nothing had been too much trouble and, although it was our first visit to Chez Jules, we felt as if we were regular diners; testament to the level of service we had received. Hot Wings happily awarded to this wonderful Chester eaterie.