Alistair Houghton goes for some Gallic sdining at Chez Jules in Chester
I DON’T know quite why the Christmas shopping crowds thronging Chester are so much more irritating than their Liverpool counterparts, but they are.
Yes, Liverpool is always busy at this time of year. But those Chester shoppers seem so much more impatient, grumpier, more inclined to grumble and glare.
Perhaps it’s the weight of Chester’s much-vaunted history that drags its shoppers down.
After all, in a small city centre encircled by ancient walls, there’s not much room for tens of thousand of shoppers, which is why they’re – we’re – all forced together in its narrow streets, coughing and elbowing our ways to presents for Auntie Ernie and Uncle Mabel.
Or, perhaps, everyone’s just in a rush to get to Chez Jules. At least, that’s how it felt when, this Saturday afternoon, just before 3pm, we walked into a dining room so packed that the sound of dozens of happy conversations had risen into a jumbo jet roar.
Chez Jules, which I discovered a year or so ago, is a popular little place. It is, as its name suggests, a French bistro-style restaurant – not a million miles away in feel from Bistro Pierre and its Liverpool cousins.
Chez Jules was founded in 1997 by Jason Ellison.
Its website boasts a “raison d’être”, rather than anything so Anglo-Saxon as a mission statement. And that raison is fresh produce – freezers and fryers are banned, and its menus change regularly throughout the year.
It’s slightly different at Winterval, of course. Even Chez Jules has to have a “Christmas menu”, which will last all month.
But don’t panic – it just means there’s a turkey dish added to a variety-packed list of starters and mains.
The restaurant was so packed, even at 3pm, that I was pretty smug we’d booked.
Unfortunately, our table wasn’t quite ready at 3, so M and I had to pop upstairs to the bar for a drink. It took 15 minutes or so for them to get us, but I used the time usefully by washing away my shopping blues on a refreshingly fruity Eastgate Ale, from Cheshire’s Weetwood Brewery.