You know The Chequers, right? One of those big, rambling family road pubs that you took the kids and grandparents to. The kind of place where a large car park and play area are adequate compensation for the generic pub grub menu.
If that’s still your idea of the Chequers, you should definitely reconsider. About a year ago the pub underwent a few changes, including an interior makeover and a new head chef – some chap called Steve Harris. Does that name sound familiar? Because it should. Steve is the man who was head chef at Ventnor’s Royal Hotel since 2013; running the biggest high-end kitchen on the Island and earning 2 AA rosettes while he was at it. So what happens when you combine one of the Island’s top chefs with a veteran pub in need of a reboot? Of course, we wanted to know. So we gathered a few friends and went to find out.
If you’re a fan of the comfy, country pub atmosphere, be reassured. The Chequers still has a real fire smoking in the bar, and stone flagstones where locals chatted over their pints. We sat ourselves in the refreshed dining area, which also had a woodburner in the corner.
Home-made salted pork quavers sounded too good an appetiser to miss, and Matt didn’t turn them down. The big fluffy pork bits were a great crispy texture, but if there had was any seasoning on them it was too subtle to detect. His starter was the irresistible local wood pigeon, black pudding and beer-pickled onions. A big pile of salad leaves arrived, and on exploration it hid four soft, pink hunks of pigeon breast riding on a disc of crumbly black pudding. A great seasonal starter. What happened to the beer-pickled onions? They might have been represented by a line of sweet, ketchuppy brown stuff, but it was hard to be sure.
Pork quavers £2.50
Pigeon, lamb, crumble £22 for 3 courses
Ginger roll £6
He went straight on to roasted rump and crispy belly of lamb. This dish really showed how things had changed at the Chequers. It arrived in grand hotel style, with green fennel stems sticking upright in a carefully-constructed melange of meat and veg. The belly technically fulfilled the promise of being crispy, as it was served in a croquette. Sliced lamb rump was carefully arranged, and an artful pool of gravy sat in just the right part of the contemporary stoneware-glazed plate. The robust winter veg, and particularly the lively fennel and red onion jam, far outshone the simple meat and gravy here, but overall it was an impressive dish.
Cat decided to embrace the game with local pheasant. This can be a dry old bird, all bone and shot, but in the hands of the Chequers chef, Cat’s breast and leg were surprisingly succulent. Although, to be honest, this dish was all about the vegetables. Local market gardeners Living Larder had supplied the parsnips and greens plus an unexpected and tasty disc of kohlrabi, a kind of exotic turnip. However, the star of the show was the mushroom duxelle. Hidden inside a little tower papered with cabbage was a rich concoction of mushrooms and shallots, adding extra flavour to an already interesting plate.
Leaving Matt to warm himself with the winter-berry crumble, Cat chose ginger arctic roll. Not the cold vanilla and jammy sponge of her 1970s childhood, but a tangy tower of ice cream with defined ginger and rhubarb chunks. Spotted about the dish was gingerbread puree, another update of a retro favourite, which gave Cat a flashback to Jamaican ginger cake. Lovely.
The classic crumble harked back to the Chequers’ long and respectable pub food heritage. The home-made custard was well-above par, even if the crumble itself wasn’t particularly distinguished.
It was good to see the new Chequers had kept so much of the old. The welcoming pub atmosphere had not been replaced by starched tablecloths and rarified menus – far from it. The cheerful service was a step above many pubs on the Island, and there would still be a place for the big family groups that have so long been the staple audience of this venue. That massive outdoor play area is still very much in evidence, and the big carvery of course remains on the Sunday menu.
And the food? The menu was very gamey, with plenty of locally-sourced seasonal produce. Everything was beautifully presented, and suggestions of the Royal Hotel kitchen were never too far away. Where it lacked was in the flavour – somehow several of these dishes seemed as though they could have been made even better with a more adventurous hand on the salt-cellar. But the best bit was at the very end – the bill. With two courses for £17 and three for £22 for food of this standard this was an absolute bargain; you’d be hard pressed to match this deal anywhere on the Island.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Interesting menu with local countryside ingredients
- Comfy environment, with plenty of parking
- Table service