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Restaurant review: Beef encounter

Black House Grill, the newest Living Venture in Chester's ancient walls, is something to seriously hunger for, says Angie

Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: Beef encounter

Every time I sit down to tell you about the Black House Grill, something gets in the way.

Irrational hunger cravings, actually, which start tugging at my sleeve, meaning I keep having to break off to address the situation.

So I'll be back in five minutes...

....There, that's done the trick, for now: Toast might be a dull, meagre ration compared with the opulent portions served up by Living Ventures' latest offering in Chester, but at least it will keep the old BMI out of trouble. In sharp contrast, then, to the BHG which has blown an astronomic, gastronomic hole in my digestive tract that neuroreceptors from my brain - somehow knocked off kilter - demand be filled each time I ponder that Kobe burger. Or perhaps I'm just a greedy git.

The PR people at BHG knew we were coming, having launched a lunch offensive to celebrate their recent arrival inside the ancient walls.

For work reasons and bad planning, this was my fifth consecutive restaurant meal in three days. An embarrassment of riches which left me feeling like I'd been shot.

So when I foolishly ordered “just a burger” because that's all my kebab-skewered judgement could cope with, our waiter chap immediately suggested I upgrade to the no-expenses-spared Kobe-style beef version, a treat at double the price, weighing in at £16.95. “With 'fresh chips' and salad on the side,” he decided for me.

Kobe beef is something that the Japanese prize. Cattle are fed on beer in the summer to ensure they maintain their appetite, and they receive massages with sake to alleviate stress and muscle stiffness. “Happy days in sunshine makes for sirloin joy on plate,” the badly-translated haiku might go.

Of course, the Japanese don't really entertain big lumps of steak, it's all wafer-thin slices for shabu shabu and the like. But in this place you can order all manner of cuts up to a 14oz monster for one, or a 16oz chateaubriand for two.

Black House Grill makes a big thing of telling you that all of its beef is locally produced, hormone free and grass fed. Furthermore, even after these relaxed 28-month-old animals saunter in to meet their maker, they remain chilled out for another 28 days before anyone thinks about letting them off the hook in order to eat them.

My companion buys into this and so do I. She, however, suffers from Menu Envy, a condition whereby the indecisive sufferer instantly regrets what they've asked for when they hear their fellow diners' orders, and will beg and plead for them to to do a swap once it all arrives. In some cases they are compelled to scrap their carefully considered order completely and hastily follow the dictates of their fellow diner. My friend tries this and I tell her to sod off. Always make these people go last.

She also likes her steak filleted and gives instructions for it to be flailed and incinerated to teach it a lesson. Would she be upgrading to the Kobe version at £50 a throw? Would we be playing swapsies? No. To both of these.

The burger is a vast spaceship that makes the table creak and the stomach of someone on their fifth restaurant in three days groan. The leanest of beef, it is a medium rare rarity. The cows must have been singing Love Me Tender as they swigged that fifth bottle of Kirin. But like most gourmet burgers it is so vast and un-burger like that I either leave it untouched in its homemade bread cocoon forever or I dive in, Kamikaze like, and make a huge mess. I do the latter.

The food is very good here, no matter who is paying. There is a huge seafood and fish selection. Lobsters reside in a tank next to a Tesco-style fish counter where punters learn that the world really is their oyster. Ostrich fillet, spatchcocked poussin, eight kinds of salads, countless sides, starters and nibbles jostle for position. There are bog standard versions of dishes and luxury equivalents, which means you can spend a little or a lot and still feel treated. And the chips are honestly the best I've ever come across in any restaurant; parboiled at a guess.

I can't comment on the cremated steak. I could snootily say it is my friend's funeral but she scoffs it in delight and makes plans for a memorial trip to celebrate a birthday soon.

Dessert? After that lot? Not me. But there's always next time and Heswall is due to get its own take on BHG this summer as Living Ventures, owner of The Living Room chain and Est Est Est, march onward and up with similar operations in Manchester and London's Smithfields already.

As I struggle to move, and enviously watch my friend find room to demolish a handsome Stilton board, complete with a whole apple impaled on a knife, it occurs to me that perhaps I was the one who had ordered wrongly.

After all, why have hamburgers when you can have steak? Or maybe I should just stay in more.

Angie Sammons

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