The Montpellier Chapter, restaurant review: The owners have bags of swank - will their howling sophistication suit Cheltenham?

Bayshill Road, Montpellier, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire (01242 527788)

Ah Cheltenham! The flower of the Cotswolds, the cradle of English womanhood, the spiritual heart of the British empire (check out Imperial Gardens, and its Crimean war memorial) a town of glorious vanity, where they hold the flagship race of British steeplechasing and where they invented the literary festival.

The self-conscious grandeur of the place strikes you as you drive past the Regency-period municipal offices on the Promenade – where else do local government buildings look so stately? On the north side, the Montpellier development offers the same look of stately overkill: rather ordinary pubs, shops and banks are dressed in honey-stone finery, as if the Royal Crescent in Bath had come to the town and spawned a lot of slightly common children.

We were here to stay in the Montpellier Chapter Hotel. It used to be the Kandinsky, a hotel favoured by lit-fest types. Now it's been acquired by the Swire Group, who have pots of money and bags of swank – they own Cathay Pacific and the Upper House hotels in Hong Kong and Beijing. Would their howling sophistication suit Cheltenham – and, more importantly, would it make for a good restaurant?

The dining-room is big, light and airy, the ceiling dominated by huge chandeliers like galactic Polo mints. The décor is a fashionable palette of grey, very grey, taupe and (my wife informed me) saddle-brown. The kitchen offers a reassuring display of steaming stockpots, a pizza oven, dark-green tiles, extractor fans concealed inside a gleaming lightbox – and (I hope he won't mind my saying) a substantial-looking chef, like Swelter in the Gormenghast books, hard at work at the marble pass. His name is Gary Wheeler, and his pedigree includes time at The Bear in Woodstock and at the Michelin-starred Lords of the Manor in Bourton-on-the-Water. At the Montpellier, he's apparently been 'guided' by the great Simon Hopkinson, though he seems to be a chap who needs little help from anyone.

The first big surprise of lunch was that, when you ask for a wine list, you're handed an iPad. Even as this strikes you as a terrible idea, you're also wondering why so few others do it. The second surprise is the affordability factors. Though à la carte main courses hover around the £20 mark, their lunchtime menu (noon to 2.15pm) is a dizzyingly cheap £16.50 for three courses. And all steaks are half-price on Thursday nights. Plus, we have a classic fine-dining menu, special-offered at the price you'd pay for a pizza lunch.

Angie went for the cheapo version. Her ballotine of goat's cheese came as a savoury cylinder, flecked with tomato, chilli and strands of pickled cucumber, served on toasted walnut bread. It was a deliciously light, summery starter. My seared tuna tar-tare (whatever the hyphen was doing there) offered fabulously fresh, sushi-grade, purply-pink tuna with tiger prawns, a salad of bacon and capers with green beans chopped up into tiny roundels, topped with shellfish crème fraîche, a nicely lumpy accompaniment to the soft tuna mash-up. It was a rather dainty dish, but that was perfectly welcome in the 80-degree heat.

My wife's fillet of ling arrived lying exhaustedly upon a herby risotto that was heavy on the tomatoes, and a shellfish cream sauce. "For the [inclusive] price," she said, "this is a hefty portion, nicely cooked, and the sauce is like lobster bisque, fresh and homemade." I wondered if you really needed both a risotto and a soup along with your fish, but was told not to be so pedantic. She admired the green salad's mixum-gatherum of leaves, green beans, spring onions and cucumber.

My 'lamb three ways' was more workmanlike than wow. The breast had been anointed with breadcrumbs and cooked until it was rather unyielding. The rump had been confited, then roasted with rosemary, and was lovely; the cutlet was pink and eat-with-your-fingers fabulous. A carrot purée and boulangère potatoes and paprika, made you want to mop up everything left on your plate. If I had a niggle, it was that the textures of roast and pan-fried lamb rump and breast are rather similar. Maybe they could have experimented with sweetbreads or liver...

A simple summer pudding with vanilla ice-cream and a yummy raspberry parfait, with a welcome hint of mint, finished off a lunch that was fantastically English, cooked with ambition and generosity of flavouring, and served with decorous politeness.

We'd begun late and it was after 3pm when we finished. From 3 o'clock, a gaggle of ladies in summer attire gradually took over the dining-room's remaining tables, and were now tucking into tea from white pots and little gateaux served from cake stands. I got the impression they came here every day – an image of unchanging Englishness as potent as the doves on the crest of Cheltenham Ladies' College, just a minute's walk down the road

Food ***
Ambience ****
Service ***

Bayshill Road, Montpellier, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire (01242 527788). Three-course lunch £16.50; three-course dinner from £40 per head

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style