Getting Convivial in Chester

I visited this restaurant in October 2014. Please check their website for the latest menus, prices and opening hours.

You know how it is: you find yourself in an unfamiliar place and want something to eat – but where to go? You haven’t really had time to do any research and have to be guided by your senses and intuition – all mixed in with a high degree of good luck.

I recently found myself in such a situation in Chester, a place I have visited only occasionally so it’s a place with which I can’t claim to be very familiar – my loss, I’m sure. I’d been asked to give a talk at the Grosvenor Museum to members of the local civic society, starting at 7.30 pm. As a result of delays on the motorway, my arrival in Chester was a good deal later than planned – in fact, I arrived at my hotel near to Chester Race Course at around 6.40 pm – just in time for a quick change and to hotfoot it over to the museum to set things up for the talk.

On the way into the Museum, I noticed what looked to be a well-supported Italian restaurant in the rather attractive old building next door. I made a mental note to explore it as a suitable place to eat afterwards.

The talk went well and, in conversation with some of the civic society members afterwards, the restaurant next door was given favourable reviews, so I determined to give it a try. That was how, on a chilly October evening I came to be seated with my partner at a table for two in Convivio Bar and Restaurant, 29 Grosvenor Street, Chester.

It was something like 9.30 when we walked in to the restaurant by which time the customers had thinned out somewhat – it was mid-week but perhaps people in Chester like to eat early? However, this meant we had a good choice of tables to pick from. Proprietor Giovanni Caggianelli greeted us warmly and showed us to a table by the window. Menus were presented and orders taken. Our waiter, James, brought us our wine, a very pleasant bottle of red, and just the thing after over an hour of talking and taking questions. Had we had a win at the races, I might have been tempted to work my way around the wine list – although it would have had to have been a big win to pay £1,000 for the top-priced offering, even if it was a magnum!

While we waited for our food to be prepared, I had a chance to look around the restaurant. The building, which is grade II* listed, was built originally for the Chester Savings Bank and, like many banking halls, built to impress. Although we didn’t venture upstairs, there is a large bar area upstairs – Grosvenor 29. Downstairs, the décor and furnishings are classically understated and elegant with artworks and images of Italy displayed on the walls. If so minded, you can watch your meal being prepared as the kitchen runs almost one length of the room.

To start with, we both had the Insalata Caprese, as salad of tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella and a traditional favourite of mine that always appeals. This was followed by Tortellini ai 4 Formaggio although we went off piste by asking for it to be served with a tomato sauce rather than the cheese sauce listed on the menu. We concluded the meal with Italian styled desserts and coffee.
Now, I mentioned that picking a good restaurant to try when you’re in an unfamiliar place can depend very much on the luck of the draw. Well luck was definitely on our side. The whole experience right from entering the restaurant until the moment we left was very enjoyable. The ambience was relaxing, the food beautifully cooked and the service discreet, unhurried but attentive. We had plenty of time after the meal for chat with James who gave us some background information about the restaurant – it was very clear that he enjoyed working there.

Well, at the end of the evening, you have to pay the bill. This came to a little under £80 for the two of us; not bad for a meal of this quality in such pleasant surroundings.

I’m not sure when I’ll find myself in Chester next but should I make a return visit, I’ll not need to do any research to find somewhere to eat – Convivio will be at the top of my list! If you’d like to check them out, have a look at their website for special events, including Opera Nights, and give them a try. As the restaurant can get very busy, booking in advance is recommended.
29 Grosvenor Street, Chester, CH1 2DD

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