AFTER a £5 million refit, Aberdeen’s Chester Hotel has food and service to match.
I’ve never understood the regularity with which “home comforts” (usually meaning a Diptyque candle) make it on to those lists of celebrity travel essentials in glossy magazines – those little things that apparently help a hotel room feel like your own house. Who wants that?
To stay in a hotel is to experience the bliss of the blank canvas, the clean slate; like a palate cleanser for life. This was my mission on checking into the Chester Hotel.
Having gone to university in Aberdeen and lingered there for a couple of years of denial after it, I know the city about as well as I need to. Back then, and until last year, Simpson’s Hotel was, to me and Aberdeen’s other tens of thousands of students, the setting of graduation lunches.
A change of ownership – to Graham Wood (progeny of Sir Ian) and wife Gillian – and £5 million later and it’s the Chester Hotel. So while I’d like to be able to tell you about the atmosphere bestowed by 80,000 jubilant Dons fans parading up Union Street on the weekend of my visit to celebrate winning the league cup, I can’t, because I only left the hotel once in 48 hours.
With a tower of newspapers, a king-sized bed, the best shower I’ve ever been under and White Company products to use in it, a giant smart TV, free wi-fi, an excellently curated mini bar (Modelo, popcorn, ginger beer), a restaurant 30 seconds walk away and – the hotel litmus test – a dream of a bathrobe; why would you leave?
Decorated in shades of charcoal and ochre, with touches of tweed and nods to Art Deco, the Rothesay Suite is tailored and sleek but still feels solid enough to be warm and welcoming – John Byrne drawings inject a touch of the offbeat, which keeps it all far from corporate in feeling. As do the hotel staff, none of whom appeared to have had their personalities removed prior to starting their shift, which isn’t always the case in higher-end establishments. While incredibly helpful, everyone I spoke to was also reassuringly normal.
The bar is small but lively, although with an average customer age of 50 (probably due to the location and the prices), unlikely ever to be a hip place to hang out. The hotel’s IX Restaurant is likely to be its main draw.
The prices are at the “remember when your parents used to pay” end of the scale, but while this is not unusual in Aberdeen, Savoy-trained head chef Kevin Dalgleish is adamant they are not an indication he will be catering exclusively for the oil classes but rather a reflection of the quality of ingredients he obtains from local suppliers. Dalgleish is determined to give Aberdeen what he says it doesn’t know it wants yet: a place to spend its money on decent food that is unconcerned with trends and focused on the provenance of its produce.
Dinner started with an amuse-bouche of a tiny potato cake topped with truffle butter and a big fat prawn. Caramelised foie gras was so rich as to edge on metallic, while the scallops were quite ridiculously chubby and perfectly cooked. The menu has an entirely proper focus on seafood, Aberdeen’s best culinary asset, and the lobster with garlic butter and roasted lemon was simple and succulent – the epitome of unpretentious luxury.
My dinner date and I were too full for dessert, which is a good sign if a crying shame, but somehow managed to inhale the petits fours (blood orange marshmallows and salted caramel truffles made on site) no problem.
The hotel’s cooked breakfast was similarly excellent, although the continental breakfast suffered sadly by comparison. It was the first time I’ve ever encountered a croissant filled with custard and hopefully the last, and I swear I recognised the cherry muffin on the ScotRail snack cart on the way home.
My favourite meal of the weekend was the one delivered by my buddies from room service: the world’s most perfect croque monsieur – crisp and golden outside, fluffy and melting but still with bite inside, excellent ham, perfect Dijon ratio; the ultimate comfort food – with the world’s most satisfying drink – a glass bottle of Coke – consumed in that bath robe on that enormous bed while watching the forgotten classic Kindergarten Cop.
That’s the beauty of the Chester: a five-star hotel that feels cosy and inviting and friendly and like somewhere you want to spend time. Homely, one might even say… but not too homely.
•A night in the Rothesay Suite at the Chester Hotel 59-63 Queen’s Road, Aberdeen AB15 4YP (01224 327 777, www.chester-hotel.com) costs £320 (single) or £455 (double), including breakfast. Other rooms are priced from £130-£495.