Sunday Lunch In Cheshire (2007)

Sunday Lunch In Cheshire (2007)

Nothing, not even the Full English Breakfast, beats a classic Sunday Lunch. The prospect of roast meat with crisp roast potatoes, luscious gravy and fresh vegetables really is an unbeatable combination -- in the right environment, of course. But too many places still serve up over-cooked, under-priced travesties of this quintessentially English culinary experience. Good wine, top-quality local produce simply cooked and a beautiful setting can however make for an idyllic couple of hours with family and friends. And Cheshire, more than most other counties in the northwest of England, boasts a positive plethora of places to go to enjoy it.

Locations don't come much prettier than the recently refurbished Swan at Marbury, originally built in 1740. The village, in the south of the county a few miles from the town of Whitchurch, really is picture postcard stuff. With its leaning Norman church, two stunning Meres and village green it is the epitome of traditional England. The Swan has had a chequered history and many changes of hands over the years but under the loving care of new owners it now offers delicious, fresh, local produce, an excellent wine list and a great range of real ales. The emphasis here is on classic dishes done well and the mood music is Modern British with lots of attention to detail. The menu changes seasonally but always includes fresh vegetable soups and seasonal dishes like grilled asparagus (served here with balsamic dressing and Parmesan shavings). Main courses, all about the £10 to £12 mark, include roast breast of Barbary Duck, which is served with an orange & brandy sauce and buttered roasted new potatoes. There's also the enticing prospect of chicken breast filled with mozzarella, wrapped in bacon and roasted, then served with colcannon, that fantastic Irish blend of cabbage and potatoes. Pan-fried loin of local pork is served on Boulangère potatoes, with a cider; apple & button mushroom cream sauce.

Further north, another Swan (at Tarporley) is a Georgian delight where dining rooms meander into each other, complete with the original beams, coal fires, oak panelling, cosy corners and (in the winter) the allure of twinkling candlelight. It boasts sundry AA rosettes and Prince Charles famously stayed here some years ago while taking to his saddle with the Cheshire Hunt. There are always amazing food deals here at lunchtime and in the evenings and Sundays is no exception. It's a modest £15.95 here for two excellent courses. Starters include home-made soup, choices like smoked mackerel or Feta salads, then it's onto the main event with 10 options to choose from. They could include roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings, or maybe roast pork loin or slow-roasted lamb shanks. Spuds and vegetables are included in the price. There is always a fish and vegetarian option and pudding is only an extra £2 a head.

The Yellow Broom near Holmes Chapel , is another rural delight and on Sundays it is unbeatable value. Run by a team led by Nathalie and Russell Burns, it's a resolutely upmarket kind of place where starters usually check in at about £8 and main courses are about £20 a head. However, the three-course Sunday lunch, at £15.95 a head, is a bit of a steal. The menu has comforting starters like leek and potato soup, and, if you're really starving, savoury platters of goodies like Parma ham, chorizo and chicken liver pate. For mains, the options can range from roast leg of lamb with perfect mint sauce to poached Scottish salmon with hollandaise sauce, escalope of pork served with a tomato, basil and garlic sauce, and grilled sirloin of beef accompanied by a green peppercorn sauce. Even vegetarians (for whom Sunday lunch is not usually a culinary high) are catered for with innovative dishes like an intricate butternut squash gratin lovingly sautéed with shallots and baked with rice and Gruyere cheese. The list of toothsome desserts includes sticky toffee pudding with hot caramel sauce, pistachio meringue served with whipped Chantilly cream, and mango salad with vanilla sauce. A lemon posset (now there's a pudding from the past) is served with shortbread biscuits and frozen lemon curd. And for a small supplement, there is a cheese and biscuit option.

It's a similar tale of fantastic value in an upmarket location at the 39 Steps in Styal (pictured above), which is now in the capable hands of Duncan Poyser and Jon Rebecchi. Sunday lunch in this long-established eaterie is a very very reasonable £18.50 for two courses. Typical starters here include homemade fish cakes with Thai herbs, and sprout top soup with roast chestnuts and a nutmeg Chantilly. The list of mouth-watering mains includes Cheshire sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding and roast gravy, shank of saltmarsh lamb basted with rosemary, and Goosnargh chicken with chorizo and peas. Puds include lemon polenta cake, bread and butter pudding, and chocolate brownies with clotted cream.

If your budget won't stretch to that kind of tab, or if the kids are in tow and you want to keep costs down, then a great place to go is Chez Jules in Chester. Here, Sunday lunch comprises two courses at an exceptionally reasonable £9.90. OK, it's not quite the traditional English deal but who's complaining when for less than a tenner you can have home-made Provencale fish soup, moules Mariniere, or grilled goats cheese served with an asparagus and spring onion salad. The main event at Chez Jules includes grilled Toulouse sausage on a bed of mash with a caramelised red onion sauce, roast salmon fillet served with sautéed courgettes and a white wine and chive sauce, and roast chicken legs and thighs generously coated in a tomato and herb sauce. Real Francophiles can go for the classic beef bourgoignon, slowly stewed in red wine, shallots and bacon. Chez Jules is also renowned for its busy ambience and the Northgate location gives it a truly metropolitan feel. You can even do a bit of shopping afterwards.

Most Cheshire towns and villages have popular restaurants, which have stood the test of time. And historic Nantwich, on the banks of the River Weaver, has local favourite Curshaws, where the long list of goodies includes Welsh lamb with dauphinoise potatoes, chicken breasts stuffed with olives and breast of duck with traditional black cherry sauce. Veggies can tuck into a risotto of spinach and mascarpone cheese. At one time, Sunday lunch was served strictly to time and late arrivals would go hungry. But most places with a tad of sophistication now have a rolling all-day programme of food. Not all members of the family may wish to indulge in a heavy lunch and if that's the case then somewhere like The Brasserie in Wilmslow is a good choice because you can eat as much, or as little, as you like. Bang in the centre of Wilmslow it always has a real buzz and despite the competition from the suburb's many eateries it's been around for quite a while with no signs of flagging. The French-influenced menu offers a lighter touch. There is everything from soup, to chicken liver pate, and smoked salmon platters with blinis. But hearty appetites are still satisfied. Roast chump of lamb is served with tabbouleh, and roast courgettes tomatoes and asparagus. Confit of duck comes with 'brasserie' sauce, dauphinoise potatoes and greens. And there's calves liver with pancetta, butter beans and garden peas. All the above mains are a very reasonable £13.

To enjoy Sunday lunch in real elegance, not many Cheshire venues can top the split-level conservatory at the Alderley Restaurant within the Alderley Edge Hotel. The two-AA-rosetted restaurant boasts splendid views out over the Edge and specialities include hot and cold seafood dishes, hot puddings fresh from the oven and freshly baked breads from the hotel bakery. A wine list with more than 500 bins and 100 champagnes admirably complements the seasonal Modern European menus.

And just in case two Swans in one feature isn't sufficient, you can always try the Swan Inn at Wybunbury, near Nantwich. Right next to St Chad's Tower, the famous 'leaning church', the Swan Inn is a charming village pub with seven ensuite rooms. The Swan has original beamed ceilings, a cast iron fireplace, an attractive front bar and a lounge/restaurant that seats appoximately 90 diners. There's a large beer garden too with views out over the village and mosses. The menu changes seasonally with everything cooked fresh to order. Check out the chef's specials board and the range of homemade desserts.

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