Regular readers might remember that I’ve enjoyed several of The Chequers’ fantastic tasting menus, which bring together the most beautiful, creative dishes with a whole range of interesting wines. If you’re after a fabulously foodie night out, I highly recommend the tasting menu, which is a bit of a steal at £55 for seven courses, or £80 with the wine flight. However, if you’re looking for something a little lighter (on the wallet as well as the stomach), I’m delighted to share that you can now get a little taste of the tasting menu (as it were) with a lovely lunchtime set menu, two courses for £19 or three for £23.50, featuring a small selection of dishes with the same sprinkling of style and originality. The Chequers have been showcasing these tempting creations on their Instagram feed and quite frankly, making my mouth water, so I just knew I had to try them for myself.
The usual word to describe The Chequers would be a gastropub, a term I have no problem with – it conjures up images of good beer and classic dishes done well, in a stylish but relaxed atmosphere. To me, though, The Chequers has a certain elegance that sets it apart a little. The crackling fire in the corner and the old church pews, repurposed as comfortable banquettes with plenty of cushions, give it the cosiness of a pub, but there are lots of elegant little touches too – white roses on the tables, the golden parquet floor, pale blue walls with white mouldings in the Georgian style – and of course the menu (while it does feature a cracking fish & chips) is several cuts above the usual pub fare.
|Perfectly cured salmon (with a lovely glass of white wine)|
I started with a beautiful cured salmon dish, served with salmon skin crisps, pickled mooli, herbed yoghurt and teriyaki sauce, and washed down with a lovely Australian white, The Hermit Crab, suggested by restaurant manager Lianne. The pairing was excellent – in fact, this dish features on the aforementioned tasting menu, with this wine – and the dish itself was beautifully balanced. I’ll be honest with you and say that I first tried a few of the elements separately and wasn’t quite sure about them, but with a little of everything on the fork it all made sense and the combination was delicious. The salmon was butter-soft, seasoned a little by the saltiness of the skin crisps, and gorgeous with the tangy pickled mooli and rich, creamy yoghurt. My dining companion chose pork rillettes with sourdough toast and pickled onions, which is a bit more of a menu staple these days, but was nonetheless very tasty (extra points also for providing plenty of bread – why do restaurants so often bring you a mouth-watering pate or something similar, and only give you a tiny square of toast to enjoy it with?)
|Ox cheek and horseradish mash (ideal cold-weather comfort food)|
For my main course, on a grey and chilly day I couldn’t resist the ox cheek with horseradish mash, Chantenay carrots and roasted beetroot, accompanied by a small glass of The Spee’Wah Cabernet/Petit Verdot, a lovely soft, fruity Cabernet Sauvignon that was just the thing with beef – another great recommendation from Lianne. I have to tell you that this was my favourite dish on the whole menu, hands down – the ox cheek was gorgeously tender on the inside and just a little caramelised on the outside, and the horseradish mash was outstanding, not spicy but just perfectly, deliciously savoury. I wasn’t quite sure about the candied sweetness of the beetroot to start with, but actually, once combined with the ox cheek, buttery mash and rich, dark gravy, it totally worked. My dining companion chose gnocchi with butternut squash, ricotta, garlic velouté and fresh green leaves, a much more spring-like dish than my choice, and I’ll confess that I thought it might be rather light and insubstantial, but it fact it was packed with gorgeous flavour. He paired both of his dishes with one large glass of Seleccion de la Familia Malbec, which was big, bold and very delicious.
|Peanut semi-freddo ice-cream sandwich – very pretty!|
To finish, I picked a pretty little ice-cream sandwich, made with peanut semi-freddo, soft cinnamon cookies and tangy plum sauce. The peanut semi-freddo was gorgeous, with a lovely texture, but I must admit I wasn’t quite sure about the cookie and might have preferred something chocolatey to go with it – I’m a confirmed chocoholic when it comes to desserts, though. My dining companion went for a salted caramel fondant (I’ve never come across a non-chocolate fondant before, by the way, but it was very nice) with rhubarb and hazelnut, which he enjoyed very much.
All things considered, this was a very good lunch indeed – I’ll be thinking about that ox cheek for quite some time (and will definitely be trying to recreate that horseradish mash at home), and very much enjoyed discovering a few different delicious dishes that I might not have thought would work on paper – which just goes to show, you should always trust the chef. The set menu is available at lunchtime every day except Sunday, and if you’re looking for a bit of a treat at a surprisingly good price, then I’d heartily recommend it.