By Laura Turner
Inspired by the legendary steak houses of New York, Upstairs at the Grill has been one of Chester’s most iconic independent restaurants for over 20 years.
Just a stone’s throw from Chester train station, and with a newly-renovated roof terrace, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a Manhattan loft rather than a city in the North West of England.
If you’re not from the area and want a steak, it’s common knowledge amongst locals that this is the place to go. It’s also a seriously impressive place for a date night and for the quality of food and service, it’s reasonably priced too.
Upstairs at the Grill prides itself on showcasing the best steaks from British farmers all-year round, as well as cuts and breeds from across the globe. But non meat-eaters can tuck into Coal Roasted Halibut Steak (£25), Seared Swordfish Steak (£19.95), Truffle and Herb Buttered Free Range Chicken (£19.95) and Charred Heritage Cauliflower (£14.95).
Visiting on a busy Saturday night, friendly staff led us upstairs to the chic, speakeasy-style bar, where seating is a mix of high stools, plush arm chairs and banquette seating. Arguably the best seat in the house, if you’re dining inside, is the bar side leather sofa. This highly sought after spot is frequently booked by regulars, so book well in advance if you’d like to dine here.
We enjoyed cocktails the Cherry Grove (£11) and New York Solstice (£11), as recommended by general manager Louis – all of which can be made alcohol-free if preferred – before heading to the terrace to take a seat at our table for the night. Given a makeover last summer, the space is charming, with festoon lighting, a fire pit, underfloor heating for winter and fully retractable roof for the summer, so it can be used all year round. It also enjoys stunning views over the Chester skyline.
One thing we loved about Upstairs at the Grill is the way staff interact with guests. Taking a seat at the table to explain the menu, it made us feel like we were among friends. Displaying some of the most popular steak cuts on a visual board was a nice touch and something we hadn’t seen in any other steak restaurant before.
Unlike some other establishments, where the focus is turning tables as quickly as possible, staff are in no hurry to get you ‘in and out’. In fact, taking your time to order is encouraged here. The menu is fully customisable. Fancy a starter with your main? No problem. Want to share a selection of smaller steaks, as opposed to the larger sharing cuts on offer? That’s absolutely fine too. The belief here is ‘it’s your meal, and you can enjoy it however you like’.
Having been on the menu for 22 years, we had to try the French Onion Soup (£7.95) to start. Rumour has it there would be uproar if this was ever removed, and we can see why. Taking three days to make, this comforting bowl complete with rich cave aged cheddar and sourdough croutons is a real treat. The Twice Baked Cheese Soufflé (£8.5) has been on the menu just as long and the recipes have never been changed. We also witnessed The Original Caesar Salad (£8) being made table-side for some nearby customers, which was great fun to watch.
Head chef Stephen Hinkley is the man behind the wonderful selection of unique and limited cuts on the menu. It’s no surprise Upstairs at the Grill features in the Michelin Guide.
Our perfectly cooked Wet Aged Fillet (£34.95) and Ribeye steaks (£27.95) arrived with our choice of sides. The team recommend ordering two per person and one in the middle to ‘pick at’, which is exactly what we did. Using pickled onions, the Crispy Battered Salt and Vinegar Onion Rings (£5.50) are a must-order. American Style Fries with Chicken Salt (£5) or Thrice Cooked Beef Fat Chips (£5.50) are other side options, but in a change to my usual, I opted for the Dirty Mash (£6). Laden with beef jus, caramelised onions, crispy bacon and a cheddar disc on top, this has become my new obsession.
Though rapidly becoming full, the dessert menu was too good to pass up. Though the presentation was so perfect we almost felt guilty eating it, we devoured the Black Forest Cherry (£9) and Chocolate Galaxy (£8.75).
Staff are extremely knowledgeable about wine here too and the restaurant works closely with CAMi Vineyards. Through friend and local supplier James Hocking, Upstairs at the Grill stocks some of the most prestigious wines, which aren’t stocked anywhere else in the country. Prices start from £75 per bottle.
Stopping for one last nightcap at the bar, our eyes couldn’t help but gaze at the Rehoboam of port being carried by a waiter. This is equivalent to 4.5 litres or 6 standard bottles, and around a bottle a month is consumed here. A single glass is £9.50 and was the perfect end to the night.
Best for: Special occasions, date night, Sunday roasts, Michelin Guide food
Upstairs At The Grill is at 70 Watergate Street, Chester, CH1 2LA and open from 12pm to 10pm seven days a week
Starters are priced from £8 and mains start at £15. Steaks are priced from £19 with sides ranging from £3.50 to £7
Wine starts at £5 per glass and cocktails are priced between £10 and £11 each (check)
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