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RESTAURANTS: Spoil yourself luxury at this in unshamed chic eaterie; Penny Fray tries out the latest craze of self-gifting.

Byline: Penny Fray

THE season of giving is over, thank God, and January heralds a new extreme in self-indulgence. Treating yourself has become the latest trend to hit the North West. And like any indulgent twenty something -I've been converted.

Self-gifting,as presented by those impossibly fickle Manhattan marketing gurus,has become the byproduct of a selfish society, a flourishing bank balance and a sexy, consumer-drivenlifestyle.

It means that sales shopping is now sacrosanct (hoorah!),a hair appointment takes precedence over a pal's latest love crisis (that is, unless they some have juicy gossip to tell) and one's eating requirements cannot be compromised (cheap burger bars are so last year, darlings).

That's why I decided to have a post-festive pampering session at one of Chester's most exclusive restaurants -Pastarazzi.

Formerly known as Paparazzi, this ultra chic ristorante used to be the place to dine with fabulous friends. And there was a time when a table had to be reserved weeks in advance.Why? Well,it was the Ivy of the North West, the celeb hangout du jour but most of all it represented all that was chic and up market ab out Chester.

Fast forward to 2004 and it seems to have become a victim of the city's growing leisure industry,long usurped by places like the Living Room,Ego and Zizzi.

The result? A 7pm reservation? No problem!

It's a pity because Pastarazzi seems to have it all. A gorgeous building, professional staff as well as a huge list of gorgeous gourmet dishes.

The Victorian men who built the bank in which this restaurant is presently housed proba bly imagined they were re- creating a Gothic mansion. Mullioned, stone-built and elegantly panelled, it's an architectural masterpiece. And the inside is stunning too.

The high ceiling gives the restaurant an airy and spacious feel while the ornate,historical windows are injected with a contemporary twist, thanks to all that linen drapery.

A huge stainless-steel kitchen stands where the cashiers once counted cash. And in true Italian style,all the cooking is done from the kitchen in full view of the diners, who can scrutinize the flamboyance of the chefs with delight.

The giant jars of olives and pasta adorned shelves give the room some spark while the huge copper pans reinforce the rustic feel of the cooking area.

Don't ask me to describe every detail of the restaurant's decor because I was too busy gabb ing with my dining companion to notice much beyond the sparkling cutlery and chic wooden tables.

Nevertheless, from the moment we swanned in through the discrete wooden doors, we were made to feel like VIPs,as attentive staff buzz ed around us like sycophantic bees.

The main menu was impressive with everything from traditional Italian fare to the chef's more exotic creations listed in the five-page leather book. However,I didn't dare to look at the a la carte menu for fear of a bankru pcy order.

Instead,Lou and I ordered our first courses from a slightly cheaper winter menu. The spagetti bolo gnese was sensational -rich and meaty without being too heavy on the stomach, while the mozzarella and tomato combo was light,fresh and fantastic.

I was equally delighted with my steak, the chef's speciality according to the menu. I had asked for it to be well done, squealing that the sight of blood makes me retch. And the chef didn't disappoint. The meat was the colour of a Prada handbag but still tasted succulent -the cheese and mushroom accompaniments giving it a deeper, richer flavour.

Lou chose the salmon on a bed of spinach. The fish was fresh and delicious, but a tad over-cooked,and the home-made bread was a treat. But the creme de la creme was to come - pudding. Apart from being a visual delight, the banana cheesecake was comfortingly creamy yet light, and the fruit sauce -scrummy!

Not even the most penny pinching or fussy diner could complain ab out the fare. It was almost perfect,as was the professionalism of the staff.

My only criticism lies at the amount of time I had to wait for the bill at the end of the evening. Despite having finished the coffee and discussed the benefits of Episode over Prada,no- one came to our aid after 15minutes. I had to attract the waiter's attention bef ore the leather booklet landed on the table .

The bill was nearly pounds 60.But as all self-gifters worth their weight in shopping ba gs know -we're worth it.

Where? Pastarazzi Ristorante, 29 Grosvenor Road, Chester (01244400029).

Service: Polite, professional and prompt.

Food: An excellent variety of topnotch Italian cuisine.

Ambience: Elegant. Disabled access: Only if assisted up the front step. Pastarazzi is housed in a listed building and a disabled toilet cannot be installed.

Children: Welcome,but there was no children's menu or high-chair visible .

Smoking: No. MENUSpagetti Bolognese ..... pounds 4.95 Insalata Capres ......... pounds 5.95 Chef's Special steak .... pounds 18.95 Salmon Fillet .......... pounds 10.95 Banana cheesecake ..... pounds 4.95 Diet Coke ............. pounds 1.50 Peroni lager ............ pounds 2.75 Coffee ................ pounds 1.20 Service charge ......... pounds 5.45 Total ................ pounds 56.32

CAPTION(S):

RICH SURROUNDINGS: Pastarazzi in Chester provides just the place if you are; looking to try a spot of post festive self-indugenceand pampering in the height of luxury
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 16, 2004
Words:892
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