Cirencester in the Cotswolds holds a lot of memories and family history for me as it is where my father’s family have always lived. This weekend, we were attending a family wedding (where I was on bridesmaid duty!) and decided to make a weekend of it, with, of course, some dining thrown in – despite the obvious risk to the comfortable fit of my bridesmaid’s dress!
On the Friday night, Mr W and I were joined by my parents, and my father suggested dining at Jesse’s Bistro. Jesse’s is closely linked with Jesse Smith’s Butchers, which has had a presence in Cirencester for years – and indeed one of my great, great grandfathers worked there in the early 1900s. This, along with a recommendation from a friend who used to live in Cirencester, made me very keen to try dining there.
Jesse’s is almost hidden away down one of Cirencester’s many side streets, but is only a short walk from the marketplace and church, which is the focal point of the town centre. It’s worth giving Cirencester Parish Church a mention here, as it was not only the venue for the wedding the next day, but is also where I was christened some thirty *ahem* years ago. If this isn’t enough of an accolade for a church, it holds an additional distinction of being one of the largest parish churches in the country – often known as ‘the Cathedral of the Cotswolds’ in view of its size. If you’re visiting the town, then the church is worth a visit – as, it turns out, is Jesse’s Bistro.
On walking in to the restaurant we were met by a delicious smell of fresh food cooking, with an open kitchen including a wood fired oven as a prominent feature of the restaurant. Various fresh produce was on display, and the kitchen is definitely set up as much as an aesthetic feature as a functional one.
The dining area is fairly intimate, with low ceilings and exposed walls of Cotswold stone, and with local artwork on display on the walls, some of which appeared to be for sale. Since starting my blog, this was our first dining experience with my parents, to whom I certainly owe thanks for my appreciation of food, so my first task was to disabuse my mother of the belief that Mr W stands for Mr Wonderful. It doesn’t. Not that he isn’t, but it’s just not that! That done, we were able to move on to the more important task of consulting the menu and wine list.
The menu features a range of local produce, with all the suppliers listed, and we thought that the insert of ‘extra dishes’ (as opposed to ‘specials’) was a very nice touch. Often, a menu has one or two obvious contenders for me when I look at it, but in this case I was genuinely spoilt for choice, and would have enjoyed pretty much any of the dishes on offer. After an awful lot of deliberation (and interrogation of my dining companions as to what they were going to have) and eventual decisive intervention by Mr W, I settled upon a salmon dish for my starter and a chicken dish for my main course.
The starter comprised potted salmon, with smoked salmon, horseradish cream and a beetroot and apple chutney on the side, all served with a piece of melba toast. The presentation was beautiful (as if it might have sailed away into the sunset!), and the taste didn’t disappoint either. All the flavours complemented each other wonderfully and I would have happily eaten the same again for my main course. Mr W and my father both opted for a ham and duck terrine, which also came with a chutney (caramelised onion), while my mother chose an antipasti selection of bread, cured meat, and marinated olives and artichokes.
We all thoroughly enjoyed our starters, and the standard had been set extremely high for the next course! My chicken breast was stuffed with a mushroom duxelle and served with sage gnocchi and a tarragon cream. I often think of chicken dishes as being a safe, or even boring option, and Mr W had to nudge me towards trying this one, but I was absolutely thrilled with my choice as it turned out to be one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever eaten. The meat was moist and delicious, and the mushroom duxelle was absolutely full of flavour. The best part of the meal, however, was the sage gnocchi, which I think had been pan fried after cooking, and were very slightly crisp on the outside, with a little bit of bite in the middle. The tarragon cream added an extra flavour to the dish, and there was enough of it to enjoy some with each mouthful without the plate being flooded.
Mr W had a sirloin steak, which also earned high praise as one of the best he’s had in a long, long time. It was thick and succulent, and a perfect medium rare. The thick cut chips it came with almost had the consistency of really crunchy roast potatoes. My father opted for a lamb dish, which I had considered but rejected because it didn’t say which cut of lamb it was. This, it turned out, was because it was in fact two different cuts, plus lamb’s liver – fantastic if you’re a meat lover! My mother chose a sea bass fillet, which came with an unusual champagne and caviar sauce. Both of them thoroughly enjoyed their choices as well, and there were clean plates all round.
There was an extensive wine list, with some unusual choices, and we enjoyed an Italian white and a red that made less of an impression on me, as I was enjoying the white too much!
It would have been criminal not to try at least one dessert, having enjoyed everything else so much, so between the four of us, we had a sticky toffee pudding, served with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch sauce, and a selection of cheeses. The pudding was dense and moist, with just the right amount of chewy dates to give it texture and sweetness without overwhelming the flavour. The butterscotch sauce was obscenely rich and had a treacley flavour to it – it was also refreshingly plentiful (stingy portions of sauce with something that needs a decent amount are amongst my many pet hates!) The cheese selection also went down well, with some interesting local and not so local choices, all of which were explained in detail on the menu, and the staff were happy to provide us with some extra biscuits – the initial cheese to biscuit ratio being a little bit off, as is so often the case with cheeseboards!
The service was, on the whole, friendly, and very attentive, although not exceptionally personal as we were served by a range of different people throughout our meal. One slight negative, for us, was that by about 10 p.m. we were the only people left in the restaurant, and it did rather feel as if the staff may have been waiting for us to leave so they could go home. Obviously this was true, but there’s an art to not making your customers feel this way! Also, with the open kitchen, there was a (missed) opportunity for the place to have much more of a buzz. As it was, it seemed very, very quiet. I picked up a copy of their monthly newsletter on the way out (which I thought was a very nice idea – as a marketer by day, I’m always impressed by businesses, especially small ones, who try something a bit different with their marketing) and it contained a Q&A with their head chef. Apparently one thing that upsets him is the fact that the British eat dinner so early – with this in mind, it’s a shame that the restaurant started to lack atmosphere at such an early hour!
Despite this very minor issue, we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and the quality of the food was such that it far outweighed any flaws in the service or ambience. Our meals really were exceptional, clearly having been painstakingly prepared using top quality produce, and the menu has obviously been put together by someone with an excellent palate who really knows their flavour combinations! Most of the dishes combined a surprisingly large range of flavours, which could have ended up being overwhelming or uncoordinated, but as it was, all of the ingredients in the dishes we tried complemented each other fantastically. The food was also outstandingly well presented – and my almost obsessive photographing of our meal bears testament to this! Prices, with two and a half courses and wine, worked out approximately £50 a head. I will most certainly make a point of visiting Jesse’s again next time I am in the area, and would recommend any discerning diners to do the same!
Food: ***** Service: **** Ambience: ***
Jesse’s Bistro, The Stableyard, Black Jack Street, Cirencester GL7 2AA