Review: The Checkers, Montgomery

One thing a restaurant really can’t be blamed for is having to share a dining room with a big party of cheerfully noisy people. Indeed, as they’re likely to have a storming drinks bill it’s only to be expected that restaurants would actively court such parties.

The Checkers
is a cosy, friendly restaurant in the modern country hotel style. They scooped a recent Michelin star which was enough to drag us the forty minute drive from Ludlow. We were introduced to some very comfy sofas in the lounge for pre-prandial drinks, but I’d scarcely admired the huge old fireplace beside us when the big party drifted in. Swiftly armed with champagne they stood around us and nearly on top of us, chatting away volubly with old friends. My sofa felt like it had been transported to a house party for very mature students. Jarring, having just started to relax. I needed to find my zen. It would be terribly unprofessional to allow something like this to affect my review. Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that a top-notch server might have noticed that the four poor souls adrift on their sofa in the middle of the party had fallen strangely quiet, and shuffled them off to their table a little quicker.

Of course we ended up sat right next to the big table. And of course one of the chaps was of the cheerful loudmouth variety who gets noisier as the evening draws on and apparently tells the most hilarious jokes ever heard in rural Montgomeryshire. The braying reached a point where I was ready to ask a waiter to please enquire politely if the table next door would kindly shut the frigging damn hell up? Zen. Zennnnn…

My starter was a generous plate of scallops, beautifully – perfectly – cooked and accompanied by a delicate fennel and ginger salad. They hadn’t been brave enough with the confit ginger, a shame as this was a spot-on match for the scallops when I did find a bit in my mouthful. The fennel by contrast didn’t give the scallops quite enough. Maureen’s spiced yellow fin was also very nicely seared and served up with soy and sesame dressing. For me the puddle of soy washing around the plate didn’t look very pretty, and we all agreed that there was a note of citrus palpably absent from this starter.

For main course I was seduced by roast squab pigeon with date puree, couscous and orange jus. The squab was dense and lovely, treated just perfectly. Good jus, good couscous, lovely slow-roasted tomatoes, but the date puree was a nigardly blob that disappeared with the first three mouthfuls of bird. It was the date that seduced me, dammit, I want more! Maureen’s rabbit was a truly single-minded plate of protein. If there was any carbohydrate present I missed it, and the blob of shallot puree and confit tomatoes were lost in the heap of bunny. Really, deliciously, beautifully cooked bunny though it was.

I finished off with a hot praline souffle, because I like praline and was intrigued to see how they’d managed to balance the obvious sweetness. They hadn’t. It was incredibly rich and sickly, and the scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side wasn’t going to do anything to control that. I couldn’t finish it. Maureen by contrast went for the selection of Checkers desserts and faced a mountain of puddings. They must have all been pretty good as the plate was devastated by the end, but we couldn’t find anything particular to hold up as amazing. It’s always good to have a real “Ooo… YUM!” from at least one pud on a selection plate.

The Checkers is a good find in the wild and woolly Welsh marches. From our visit I would say that their great strength is execution – everything is cooked to perfection. In contrast, they seem to have missed the mark a few times in balancing a plate or picking a combination. I’d go again, to see whether different menu selections turn out to be better balanced, although at £75 a head with only one-and-a-half bottles of wine between the four of us I’ll probably wait a little while.

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