Hickory’s, Chester

Well then, isn’t Chester a gorgeous and historic city? It’s a great place to spend a day if you fancy a spot of window shopping in some of the lovely boutique shops, pop into Hotel Chocolat for a spot of chocolate lust, limiting myself to one small slab or pack of chocolate (I got a pack of 50% Milk & Salted Caramel Batons), visit a couple of historic pubs and walk the city walls. It was when walking these city walls I first spotted where my dad and I were going for food that evening.

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Sorry about the timestamp on the photo, my dad had turned the timestamp on, on the camera, and I hadn’t realised until later. There was a gorgeous aroma of BBQ smoke around there. I was looking forward to it. We continued our walk of the city walls, visited a fantastic pub, The Cross Keys, by Joules Brewery (who I had never heard of before, and yes, that is Joules as in the unit of energy, different person, but the same family). Friendly staff, and a great selection of beers, including my favourite IPA, Jaipur. Perfect drink to get me in the mood for a massive portion of American style low and slow BBQ food. Or so I thought.

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Hickory’s is located on the River Dee (as in on ground at the side of the River Dee, not actually in the water, that would be crazy and they would find it hard to light the BBQ with all that wet stuff about), and I couldn’t help but think “it’s a bit dark out here, they could do with more lighting outside”. We went in and were greeted with the smell of popcorn, and the sounds of a LOT of people chatting, turns out Tuesday is a busy night at Hickory’s… and it was only 5.30pm!

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We were taken to our table, a very high bar table, with two very high bar stools, not brilliant for a shortarse like myself, call me old fashioned, but I like to eat sat on a chair at a normal height. Drink orders were taken, and a bowl of salted popcorn arrived.

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Our drinks arrived after we’d been nibbling at the popcorn, my dad ordered his favourite soft drink, Root Beer. He is wrong for liking this stuff, it’s like medicine, and nobody enjoys drinking medicine, except for the banana or strawberry medicine you got as a child. Also, why Bundaberg Root Beer, from Australia, and not something authentically American like A&W Root Beer? Still, it all tastes nasty.

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I had a drink from the homemade soda list, opting for the Orange Cream Soda, I usually can’t stand Cream Soda, but I thought being in an American style restaurant, why not go for something very American. It was quite delicious, but it didn’t take me long to finish, on account of it being full of ice. Food orders were taken when the drinks arrived, and I went off to take a couple of pictures of the restaurant.

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Impressive collection of hot sauces, none of which are available to adorn your BBQ at Hickory’s

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Open kitchen with seating right around it

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The bar at Hickorys, if you want to pretend you’re in an American cop drama, you can sit at all night drinking whiskey on the rocks.

I’d only been gone from the table a matter of minutes, and food had already arrived, and my dad had began eating his. I tried to take a photo of my dad’s food, but the lighting is so dark in Hickory’s, that you can’t see anything in the picture, so allow me to tell you what he had. On Tuesdays, Hickory’s do a deal called “Hog Heaven” which consists of “A hefty whole rack of succulent Kansas style baby back ribs, accompanied by buffalo wings, Hickory’s fries and house slaw” which costs £10. My dad certainly had a generous portion of baby back ribs, but the wings, they were full chicken wings, not what I would call buffalo wings, where they are trimmed. How strange, for a restaurant doing authentic American food to be serving wings in that very British way. Also, the bourbon glaze my dad had on his wings was a 2 chilli heat rating on the menu, but you could feed them to a toddler and they wouldn’t pull a face.

As I mentioned before, I returned to the table to find food sitting there, and my face dropped.

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“When’s the rest of it coming?” I thought. When I ordered my beef brisket, I had expected an almost Man Vs Food portion, but what was on my plate in my mess tin was four slices of brisket. Also, what appeared to me to be four half slices of brisket (brisket is a wider cut than what was in my tin, where is the rest of it?). Sure, it tasted delicious, if the BBQ sauce on it did overpower the gentle smoke flavour a bit. But, there was none of that American generosity that I had expected. Onto the sides, I hardly touched them. The fries despite having “Hickory’s” in front of them in the menu tasted just like the fries you get with a burger or a kebab from your local takeaway. As for the slaw, most places I’ve had American style food before, the slaw has been a bit more luxurious, a creamy taste, sometimes with red cabbage in it, which is a lovely touch. This tasted thin, and a bit acidic, just like the stuff you get for about 25p for a tub in ASDA (still, not as bad as at Forum in Preston!)

I had been planning on ordering from their desserts menus, after all the website did claim that Hickory’s served “enormous American desserts”, but I didn’t want to risk my money on further disappointment.

Plates were cleared away, and our waitress asked if everything was alright, I told her how I felt about the meal, and a gentleman (supervisor or manager? I didn’t find out, sorry) came over to discuss my feedback. As it turned out, we had visited just a couple of weeks after a menu relaunch. The chicken wings used to be served in the American style, trimmed down so you could actually eat them without giving yourself a Heath Ledger’s Joker style makeover with hot sauce, however people felt like they weren’t getting enough food, so they went to the messy, and inauthentic way of serving them. People who complained about that were wrong, and Hickory’s were wrong to change how they presented the wings.

As for my small portion of brisket, that is down to a change in the menu recently. They used to use British Beef, and the portions were more generous, but, in what seemed to be an effort to be more American (perhaps compensating for the wings?), they have began to use USDA Beef, imported from America, which costs more, what with having to import it from America, and the customer pays the cost, by getting less food. British beef is a premium product, I can’t understand what point there is in using beef from halfway across the world, when there is brilliant beef on your doorstep, Chester is just across the border from Wales, there is an abundance of great beef being produced in Wales!

The gentleman who spoke to me regarding my complaints did remove my main from the bill, for which I am grateful for, and perhaps, if they return to using British beef, and trim the chicken wings, and gave the bourbon glaze a bit more kick, I would like to revisit, to give their BBQ a second chance, next time I am in Chester.

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