Fully established as a Chester institution and undoubtedly one of a kind, it would be hopelessly understating the situation to call Upstairs at the Grill a steakhouse. For sure, the core reason for its existence is to prepare and serve the king of meats, but UatG distances itself from the rest in both the quality of its food and the style of the establishment.
Like rolling up at a house party, you step through the front door and are greeted and led upstairs for an aperitif in the clubby comfort of the bar. It's nice in there - all soft and shadowy and middle-European. Staff chat with you, make you feel welcome, listen. There is plenty to read on the big, heavy menu: a full repertoire of non-steak dishes and nine different cuts of beef, as well as several pages of additional information. But they help you choose - usually bring out a board with the raw steaks on to give you a visual fix. They ain't messin' about here. By the time you've chosen there won't be much time to look around you. But you can always come back upstairs after you've eaten. There is the louche ambience of the casino about the place. You probably feel it before you even notice the roulette wheel on the bar. There is no gaming licence but who's to say what happens late at night when the high rollers are in town?
Downstairs, the small dining room has a more contemporary feel. Starters arrive straight away. They are finely crafted pieces in their own right: the steak may be the star of the show, but there is no danger of the support act slipping by unremarked. It's no surprise that the wine list stretches to some pretty serious specimens, but the house wines start with a perfectly respectable tempranillo for £18. We usually let the sommelier suggest matching wines for the starter, then move on to old favourites to go with the meat. Speaking of which: rib-eye (delmonico and bone-in), sirloin, rump, fillet, chateaubriand, USDA certified New York club and fillet on the bone are all on the menu. All the usual accompaniments and sauces are there as well as cute little extras like a duck egg or roasted bone marrow. One thing I particularly like is the way there's none of that macho bollocks where you feel pressured into going rare or beyond - here the menu correctly recommends medium done for most cuts.
If you've never visited Upstairs at the Grill before, then the most useful message I can offer is that it's going to be good. They don't do cock-ups here. We've put it in the expensive category because your bill will tell you that that's how it is. But quality costs and you do get value for money. And see their website for special offers.
What started out as a bold and imaginative venture has matured into the finest niche restaurant in town and the winner of multiple awards. It seems to me that back in 2003, when it opened, to eat well in Chester involved buying in to a pretty formal, best behaviour kind of performance. Upstairs at the Grill never played along with that: you booked at UatG, you were realy well looked after but with none of the stiffness and fuss. Today this is how most of us prefer to eat - we can now see that they were ahead of the game from the beginning.