Max Wooldridge for MailOnline
If you’re thinking about a Christmas present with a difference, treating someone to a hotel stay and a visit to Chester races is a surefire winner. Although the racing is always fun, I find studying the punters is often more interesting.
This is especially true when some of the women in the crowd display their disdain for the inclement weather with a spectacular lack of clothing. Credit where credit’s due, though; most start with good intentions and look their elegant best. Before long, however, as the champagne flows, making their way from the parade ring to the winner’s enclosure becomes virtually impossible while wearing vertiginous heels. Fortunately the going is soft if any of them takes a tumble.
Medieval gem: Chester Rows, the city’s historic covered walkways
Chester races is also a favourite of top footballers, so don’t be surprised if you spot Wayne Rooney and his wife Coleen among the crowds. Our own brush with alcohol started before the action on the turf, and was perhaps a little more instructive. We joined a cocktail masterclass in the champagne bar at Chester’s ABode Hotel, on the site of the city’s former police station.
The fifth-floor bar overlooks Britain’s oldest racecourse, and there are fine views of Chester and the Welsh hills beyond. ‘A lot of people can be very conservative with cocktails,’ said Alex Ross, our friendly tutor. ‘They tend to stick to what they know. If nothing else, I hope we inspire people and change their minds to what they normally think about cocktails.
From wags to riches: Coleen Rooney and a friend at Chester racecourse
We often like to go off-piste, so to speak, and create our own twists on classic cocktails. Coming up with the names is fun, too.’ For example, Alex soon guided me on how to make an Oriental Iced Tea, a twist on the Long Island Iced Tea, made with melon and lychee liqueurs. And a Million Dollar Mojo is a variation on the mojito, where vodka and chambord replace rum. ‘This is like being back at chemistry classes at school,’ I told Alex. ‘Only much more fun.’ Asked to invent my own concoction from scratch, I mixed cherry syrup, ginger ale, Hendrick’s gin, a dash of amaretto and creme de menthe.
My creation looked interesting but it tasted truly revolting. I blushed so much the colour of my face matched the contents of the cherry syrup bottle. Some things are best left to the experts. After our cocktail session, we headed to the famous Chester Rows for a personal shopping experience. ‘Are you VIPs or something?’ asked our surprised taxi driver when he picked us up from the hotel and we told him our destination. ‘No. Why?’ ‘Just wondered, that’s all,’ he replied.
The reason for his frown soon became clear when he dropped us off barely 400 yards along the road. Not having been to the city before, we didn’t know how close our hotel was to the Rows. While my partner headed for L K Bennett, I walked into Hugo Boss. ‘We get a lot of the footballers in here,’ said one of the assistants. ‘Paul Scholes, he’s a lovely fella.’ Marginally more successful than my cocktail experience was a cookery lesson back at ABode’s MC restaurant.
The kitchen was busy but there was a civilised air about the place. ‘There’s no shouting in kitchens,’ said executive chef Tom Hine. ‘Most of that is just done for TV.’ Tom helped me prepare what we were due to eat later: tomato salad, followed by Welsh lamb, onion puree and pressed potato confit. It’s clear you need to be able to multi-task to be a good chef. In between keeping his eye on several pans, Tom signed for deliveries, including fresh mackerel from a supplier in Fleetwood. ‘Hey, Fleetwood mackerel!’ I joked.
My partner and I returned after the races, though I suspect what we ate was not the unsightly mess I made earlier, but brand new dishes created from scratch by the chefs. Our fellow diners appeared to be a mixture of couples, Mancunian millionaires and Scouse entrepreneurs, but no footballers. And this time no one took a tumble.
TRAVEL FACTS: PLAN YOUR OWN CHESTER GETAWAY
A two-night Chester Races package for two
people at the ABode Chester (abodehotels.co.uk, 01244 347000) costs
£1,450. This includes BB accommodation, entrance to the
racecourse’s County Stand, cocktail and cooking masterclasses, and
tasting menu with matching wines.