The Kitchen at Storyhouse Chester, Hunter St, Chester, CH1 2AR – Visit Now
Chester’s Storyhouse cultural hub opened in 2017 to widespread acclaim. Not only does this beautifully-designed venue put a major cinema and theatre at the heart of Chester, it also boasts a carefully planned in-house restaurant, simply titled The Kitchen.
The Storyhouse provides a wonderful respite, peaceful and relaxed
The dishes on offer are ‘inspired by the Levant’, that large area in the Eastern Mediterranean, though it’s easier to describe it as Lebanese tapas. You can choose from half a dozen sections, including salads, meat, seafood, vegetables and so on.
If you’ve been to Chester you’ll know, it isn’t the easiest place to navigate, and this undeniably beautiful walled city features countless confusing paths and dead ends. It also happens to be races day, so the streets are full of rowdy dressed-up racegoers. The Storyhouse provides a wonderful respite from this, peaceful and relaxed, with the dining area opening onto a roomy reading space.
We open with a couple of small appetisers. First, a bowl of impressively plump olives, lightly oiled and topped with springtime herbs. The Aleppo pickles are an altogether more dazzling option, brightly-coloured chunks of turnip, cauliflower and beetroot, crisp to the bite with a delicious eye-popping tartness. The accompanying chili peppers are nicely marinated, full of garlicky aromas and light on heat.
The butter bean salad is a solid choice, mixed up with Pul Biber (a sweet Turkish chilli) and red onion, pepper and tahini paste. The beans are firm and fresh and the flavour is strong and moreish, without ever being overpowering. The watermelon and feta salad is more dikl;,.mm visive. Pine nuts and salad leaves intermingle with the chunks of sweet fruit and cubes of sour sheep’s cheese, making for a neatly balanced plate but I can’t help find something odd about having sweet flavours in a salad. My dining companion firmly disagrees, however, declaring it a perfect fit for these summer months.
As for the seafood, the seared scallops are near-perfect. Fat and plump, lightly drizzled with rose harissa oil placed on a bed of subtle celeriac purée. The prawns come a close second – wonderfully fresh, served in their shell with a sprinkling of finely diced vine tomato and a gentle chilli oil. The portions are well-sized, large enough to satisfy but not enough to get boring. Prices for each plate hover around the £5 mark, which is a bargain considering the quality of the ingredients – not to mention the ideas that have gone into each dish.
But it’s the vegetables section that provide today’s standout plate. Dolma is a Mediterranean classic – stuffed vine leaves, here containing firm slabs of feta cheese, on a couple of thinly-sliced sections of orange scattered with mint leaves. The vine leaves are fried and crispy, and combined with the orange and mint make for a truly spectacular mouthful. This dish is almost worth a visit on its own.
The Mujaddara comes a close second. This is a bowl of rice and cooked Lebanese lentils, garnished with sautéed onions, and while it might sound simple, it’s packed with deeply satisfying flavours and pairs well with practically every other plate on the menu.
The Harissa pork sausage comes highly recommend by our delightfully-engaging and well-informed waitress (the atmosphere here is that all-too-rare combination of laid back charm and upbeat excitement). She’s not wrong. The sausage meat is fantastic – light on fat and oil, but packed with complex North African flavours – on a bed of hummus-style crushed butter beans, mixed with coriander and parsley.
Just as good, and apparently the chef’s favourite, are the Persian meatballs. Packed with dark, dank lamb flavours, on a bed of aubergine and red pepper, you’ll want to eat them again and again.
But the most memorable plate, and a real contender for plate of the day is the chicken and pistachio. An undeniably odd-sounding plate, these are small chicken fillets, coated with honey and scattered with chunks of pistachio nut, designed to be dipped in a Turkish cacik (aka Tzatziki) sauce. The combination of sticky honey, nut fragments and chicken is wonderful, and we devour the lot in seconds.
After all this, we’re almost too dazed to consider dessert (note, four plates per person is well enough) but we’re persuaded otherwise and, happily, they’re all as good as the savoury plates. The chocolate, coffee and cardamom torte is an instant hit, with a well-portioned serving of cream and blueberries. As is the bakalva, a well-made swirl of honeyed filo pastry with walnuts and pistachios.
Our favourite, however, is the orange blossom terrine. A light and creamy slice, coated with honey and dotted with berries. This delicate dessert is a fine way to round off such a wide-ranging and fascinating meal.
There’s much to recommend about The Kitchen, not only to locals but also to residents of nearby cities such as Liverpool and Manchester looking to sample some of the most accomplished dishes based on Greek, Turkish, Libyan and Lebanese cuisine. We tried over fifteen dishes throughout the meal, and practically every one was a success. Word of warning though, don’t attempt this many dishes by yourself. Leave it to the professionals.