The county town of Chester has many fine places to eat and drink. One of the newest and best is Joseph Benjamin. Its formula is one which was perfected many years ago by places like Valvona and Crolla in Edinburgh and the question is why there aren’t many more places like it. Basically, Joseph Benjamin is a top-class delicatessen with a small restaurant attached. The location could not be better. It is tucked within the city walls on Northgate Street near to the cathedral and famous Rows.
The cooking is looked after by Joseph Wright, five-time winner of Cheshire Young Chef Of The Year, while front of house is handled by his brother, Benjamin. Hence the name. The family business is split between the open-plan kitchen, basement-level dining room and the ground-floor delicatessen that supplies yummy produce for the restaurant. The delicatessen bit offers a great range of cured meats, and salamis from all over the world. There is also a raft of pates and terrines – all handmade on the premises — plus delicious locally produced chutneys and preserves. Joseph Benjamin is also worth a visit for its speciality breads, cakes and organic chocolates.
The restaurant is, it must be said, compact, with room for only 20 diners maximum. But the dining area is cosy and stylish. The small, but perfectly formed, menu focuses sensibly on fresh, local and seasonal produce and it changes according to season. Typical starters include lentil and tomato or leek and potato soup, pan-fried Halloumi cheese with beetroot salad and imaginative options like guinea fowl, pear and walnut salad. Mains are firmly within the comfort zone – slow-roast shoulder of beef with horseradish mash, grilled seabass, salmon and smoked salmon fishcakes with salad, and sautéed chicken breast with Puys lentils. There are also highly recommended ‘tasting plates’ of cheese (from the neighbouring Cheese Shop) and spicy plates of charcuterie.
One of the latter would be big enough for two. Joseph Benjamin has a pleasing array of cakes and the pudding options here include the inevitable sticky toffee pudding, apple and cinnamon crumble and homemade chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream. The wine list could be bigger but it probably will be once this place is more established. As things stand, it’s mainly European with the odd New World addition. A select range of local ales is also available and you can get fresh-pressed juices, teas and coffee.
The dining area is available for hire for private lunchtime or evening functions, and would make for a pleasant family celebration or informal date. It may be early days yet but the signs are that the Brothers Wright are onto a real winner. The restaurant is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and for Sunday lunch. On Mondays it’s closed and Tuesday and Wednesday opening hours are 8am to 6pm. Another place worthy of note and on similar lines is Hopkinson’s Deli Café in Lymm. It’s slightly retro in feel, with quiche, pate and dips featuring heavily on the menu. But the produce is top-notch, the cooking fresh and the flavours are out of this world. Easily missed, it’s set back from the main road but well worth a visit.