Owner and chef Steven Sanderson has been satisfying the appetites of a large and loyal clientele at The Chequers at Burcot for the past six years. I consider it my loss not to have become one of this happy band much earlier. How can reports of the excellencies of this fine old village pub, with its well-sourced, seasonally inspired menu, not have spread before? For once, the bush telegraph has failed.
Steve was already a well-known figure in the world of food when he bought The Chequers in 2006 after a long search for a suitable ‘place of his own’ that took him around some 50 to 60 likely properties. Previously, the South Londoner had run a pub in Wokingham, and before that worked in Honiton, Devon, Leatherhead and elsewhere.
Goodwill messages from the likes of Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsey and Michel Roux were the first thing Rosemarie and I noticed on our recent Friday night visit to a busy, bustling Chequers. The second was the broad smile of manager Jade Konz, Steve’s long-time partner, who was on duty behind the bar.
“A drink?” she asked in an accent I at once recognised as South African. This was not a question that required repetition. On the recommendation of Jade, (something of a whizz at cocktails) Rosemarie was soon sipping at an English Garden — a refreshing blend of Hendrick’s gin, elderflower cordial and apple juice — a welcome taste of summer even as we settled before the distinctly unseasonal (but necessary) log fire. I went for gin and tonic. This too was a treat, being made from Williams gin and the reassuringly expensive Fever Tree tonic water (a step-up from the Aldi low-cal I sup at home).
Perched on red Chesterfields, we studied the menu which contained much to tempt the jaded palate. It featured good, robust fare with starters of crispy duck salad, ham hock terrine and Caesar salad with anchovies and bacon. Mains included Aberdeen Angus rib-eye, crispy belly of Old-Spot pork and “our world famous fish and chips”, with the chips triple-cooked in beef dripping. My starter was styled the “best of British fishcake” — a beguiling blend of salmon, cod, haddock and potato given an extra lift through the moistening accompaniment of a well-judged leek sauce. Rosemarie had hand-dived Scottish scallops. There were three, all large and juicy, without coral, and served with roasted peppers, olives, pine nuts, tomatoes and bacon.
The availability of good wines by the glass is a definite plus here. I drank an unusual Brazilian pinot, Miolo — dry and citrussy — that Jade discovered on recent travels. Rosemarie had a much more familiar Vouvray (La Forcine).
My rump of Oxfordshire lamb, served in three pink juicy and tender slices with sautéed new potatoes, and a rich Mediterranean gravy went down with a wholly suitable glass of rioja (Sonsierra). Rosemarie’s cottage pie of Angus minced beef, dark and flavoursome beneath cheesy mash, arrived with delicious Chantenay carrots. She drank Portuguese Ciconia, a heady blend of Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Aragonez grapes.
A heated dessert debate was assuaged when Jade said Steve offered a taste of four — top marks to the roast rhubarb meringue with his home-made vanilla ice cream.
“Rich but lovely” was the verdict delivered by the adjoining diners as their bill arrived. That was exactly how we felt about our meal.