Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts
The place does have one major flaw. The Restaurant, the cleverly named, uh, restaurant at The Cheshire, cannot produce what would elevate it to the realm of dining magic: It lacks a reliable supply of foggy, rainy nights with a chill in the damp air. You’ll just have to pretend that part—which is easy to do once you’re inside, with its subdued lighting, lots of candles, and massive exposed beams. It’s like a Kentish public house, with the wet, wild moors just outside.
It’s a cheery, inviting place to spend a civilized evening. Tables are arranged for comfort and privacy. The tables for two situated almost in the big stone fireplace define cozy dining. Next best are the booths, where one can relax and peruse the menu with an aptly named Dark N Stormy in hand, a libation made with blackstrap rum and house-made ginger beer.
The Cheshire—once a landmark hotel, abandoned and forlorn for many a year, then expansively and expensively remodeled by locally owned Lodging Hospitality Management—is again a stellar hotel. The Restaurant here is, in its own right, an estimable place for dinner.
Starters are elegant and essential, beginning with a must-try pork-belly preparation. A cellphone-size square of belly is braised to a sweet, delightfully fat richness and loaded atop a drift of white, cheddar-flecked grits and pickled red onions. An entire quail is deep-fried, then drizzled with truffled honey. “Entire” here is relative, as the bird has only nibbles of meat—but with the truffle-charged honey, it makes for an amazing combination of savory and sweet nibbles.
The charcuterie is first-class, with duck rillettes; smoked pork-loin slices; a hefty slab of coarse, pistachio-studded country pâté; a pair of homemade mustards; and a sauce of puréed beets. The thick buttered toast is a decided improvement over the tasteless “toast points” of too many charcuteries.
Butternut-squash soup has become clichéd: Try the version here, luxuriant with crème fraîche and crumbled spiced pecans, to see how good this soup can be. Among the salads, go with the kale, spritzed with a lemon-anchovy vinaigrette.
Main courses, fewer than a dozen, are all appealing. A whole yellowtail snapper is served lightly charred, moist, freshened with a spritz of lemon, accompanied by baby bok choy, a color contrast to the fish’s firm white flesh. There aren’t enough presentations of whole fish in St. Louis; this snapper highlights what we’re often missing.
Another worthwhile offering from the grill is a shank of lamb, presented on thick white china in a kind of Neanderthal glory. The tender meat wrapped around that shank is roasted, leaving a touch of pink, the crust salty and delicious. The curried shell beans add a welcome complexity.
“Throwbacks” are a nod to the restaurant’s past. Prime rib with Yorkshire pudding sounds lovely; it’s average at best. If the braised beef short ribs, though, are an example of this place’s original fare, it must have been something. The meat, braised to succulent tenderness in red wine, falls apart, but retains all of its moist, beefy flavor. The accompanying roasted garlic mash and root vegetables are—well, again, think of that chill, wet night outside. Perfect.
From a huge rotisserie glowing with blue flame fingers comes a duck breast, sliced, its skin crackly and golden, the meat appetizingly rosy. Along with it are the duck’s leg and thigh, gloriously melted in a fine confit preparation. Along with what’s basically half a duck, slices of poached pear on the side and cubes of butternut squash make for a generous meal.
A couple of steaks also come off the grill: an herb-marinated hanger cut (also known as a bistro steak) and a New York strip, both interesting primarily for their splendid sides. The former comes with fluffy potato croquettes, the latter with a potato–and–celery root gratin and buttery duxelles of wild mushrooms. The bubble and squeak that accompanies a smoked pork chop is also delightful; it’s an English classic, a pan of fried vegetables (especially cabbage) that “bubble and squeak” as they sauté. Available as a side here, it’s the answer to leftovers for Sunday dinner, easily replicated at home.
Scallops are the size of lug nuts, seared to a juicy, caramelized sweetness. With shaved Brussels sprouts flavored with bacon and drizzled with brown butter, this may be the best dish on the menu. That’s something you can argue about over dessert—like the lemon tart. It’s a poppy-seeded trough of baked dough, filled with pungently powerful lemony custard, accompanied by slices of blood orange and a tiny ball of sorbet tinted with elderberries. Light sorbets, house-made with unique flavors, are a less formidable way to end the meal.
The unoaked 2011 Neyers 304, a chardonnay that drinks easy and well, typifies an array of thoughtfully selected wines that line a glassed floor-to-ceiling “cellar.”
Insist on dining in the front room; the two behind it are and feel like staging areas, though the one with a view of the kitchen and that flame-breathing rotisserie is diverting. Expect good service. Expect to either park on the street or in the alley just west of the restaurant to avoid a valet service that seems to want to appear—irritatingly—almost compulsory.
That a superior restaurant must present excellent fare is axiomatic. Less often noted, though almost as critical, is the atmosphere conjured. The Restaurant creates the relaxing, graceful interior of a Tudor pub. It’s not its fault that a warm, sunny spring’s at hand. So use your imagination. Think gloomy, wind-tossed moors. It’ll make this good restaurant even better.
The Bottom Line: A St. Louis favorite, reborn, with excellent and creative American fare.
The Restaurant at The Cheshire
7036 Clayton Ave.
Dinner nightly, brunch Sun
Average Main Course: $25
Reservations: Make them, certainly (or have your butler do so).
Dress: As Timothy counseled, adorn yourself in respectable apparel.
Chef: Rex Hale