The Courthouse is a new bespoke gastro-led hotel in the heart of Knutsford - but what does that even mean? (and what's it like?)
I’ve been past the old Knutsford court house about a million times – mostly while wandering around the Cheshire town’s annual May Day celebrations. I’ve always been impressed by it but up until recently I had (thankfully) never been inside.
Heading down there for a court date must have been a rather nervous time for anyone who ventured into the building to stand in front of a judge but not any more – in fact the only thing that can make you nervous now is deciding how you want your steak cooked or whether you’ve got enough pillows on your bed.
Just over a year ago the building was bought by Flat Cap Hotels, a family-run hotel brand that aim to “champion food-led destinations with stunningly restored venues”. The Courthouse in Knutsford must have seemed perfect for them then – and they’ve certainly done something very special with it.
Comprising 11 bedrooms all set around the impressive Barristers Restaurant & Bar, The Courthouse is certainly a statement hotel and somewhere that is definitely well worth a visit, even if you’re not staying over for the night.
I should probably start on the rooms though, because that’s usually the first thing you experience when turning up at a hotel – obvious I know.
Each room in The Courthouse seems to have some form of history behind it – usually acting as an essential court-orientated base of operations – such as an interrogation room or records room or torture room (maybe).
I’m not entirely sure what the former life of my room was (I was too frightened to ask) but it doesn’t matter now – it looked fantastic with a HUGE bed slap-bang in front of a fireplace, a rather beautiful set of table and chairs and what can only be described as a stunning bathroom complete with one of them showers that goes straight down over your head.
It was cosy, chic and pretty sexy and I just couldn’t bloody wait to sleep in that bed. I should also note that the tiles in the bathroom were so good that at one point I thought about nipping out, buying a crowbar and taking some home with me. I think that may be frowned upon though so it’s a good job I resisted the urge.
Swiftly changed and I went down to the restaurant for dinner. As a nice little touch, although ‘nice’ might not be the correct word, the entrance to Barristers Restaurant & Bar features 7 bowler hats above the door – representing the 7 people who were publicly hanged outside the court during its life as a law building.
Vault through the creepy door and you’ll find yourself in the old court room, now transformed into a fully functioning bar and restaurant and featuring a whole array of pictures, frames and art all over every available wall surface. It must be said – it’s certainly striking and definitely a talking point.
When it comes to the food, Flat Cap seem to want to pursue that most-fashionable of endeavours – local, seasonal British produce being used to create homemade classics for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Or breakfast, dinner and tea. Whatever. You get the idea.
Beneath the room’s huge glass dome we sat down for dinner and it must be said – the menu is impressive and expertly crafted and put together. There’s not a lot of things on offer, which is the first good sign if you ask me – a restaurant that offers seemingly every dish from all over the world would certainly set off Wetherspoons-esque warning alarms in my head.
To begin with I tucked into a Selection of Flavoured Bread with Flavoured Butter (£3.50), alongside a Smoked Beetroot & Whipped Feta dip (£5.00) Both were excellent – especially the beetroot dip, which was the perfect blend of tangy and earthy – it was gone in seconds.
On to the more substantial areas of the meal and for my ‘starter’ I opted for the vegetarian friendly Tomato Tatin (£7.00) that came spruced up with balsamic shallots, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds and mozzarella. The tomatoes actually tasted of something which is certainly a testament to the chef – perfectly tangy and sweet – the whole dish was a delight.
My eyes were also drawn to a Goats Cheese and Beetroot Tart (£8.00) with walnuts and black onion but I was suitably beetroot’ed out already after my dip earlier so I went for the tomatoes. Got to mix these things up sometimes!
By this point I was suitably stuffed, but I managed to make some room for my mains – which came highly recommended by our server and took the form of a Rack of English Lamb (£12.50). There’s nothing quite as impressive as a ‘rack’ of something and this didn’t disappoint either.
The lamb was expertly prepared and came alongside an impressive portion of Boulangère potato, spring cabbage cannelloni, peas, little baby carrots and a smoked onion & mint jus. I was very impressed with it – so impressed in fact that I almost started licking my plate until I realised where I was and decided against it.
Other mains on the menu include Short Rib Beef served in a honey & mustard glaze, sweetcorn puree and crisp polenta, and a fantastic Guinea Fowl which rests on a bed of roasted garlic cannellini beans, baby beetroot and a parsnip and honey puree. All rather impressive British classics with rather eclectic seasonal twists.
Finally, I finished with the only dessert worth anyone’s time and effort – Cheese & Biscuits – of which I chose 3 absolute beauties – a Burt’s Blue, some Scottish Mull of Kyntyre and a Cerney Ash all the way from Gloucester. Served up with grapes, quince and candied walnuts I was in true gluttony heaven and was actively looking forward to the nightmares in my big bed later.
The nightmares never came. As I settled into the huge, impossibly comfortable bed I fell asleep almost instantly – the typical scientific response my body has when I eat too much. To say I slept like a baby would be a bare-faced lie – not once did I cry or wet myself – so win-win for everyone.
Fully rested I headed back down to Barristers again for breakfast, and a menu that contains pretty much every single thing you could ever want before 10am in the morning. Except a big bowl of Frosties of course. I opted for the Eggs Benedict (£8.00) and was not disappointed. It was superb – and the Buttercross Farm smoked bacon was the thing of dreams. Fantastic.
I was then free to enjoy Knutsford at my leisure – a town that has many charms and can easily take a fair few hours and days out of your life without any regrets at all. Luckily it was sunny and I had my bike so I rode to Tatton Park just a short distance away and had a lovely couple of hours in the sun there.
As an idea The Courthouse seems like one that’s a bit mad. Turning an old court into a chic and stylish hotel and restaurant certainly isn’t an easy task, but it seems like the gang over at Flat Cap have done it. Everything is slick, the food was excellent and the rooms are impossibly comfortable. A class act all round – well done all!