Warwickshire’s Essential Entertainment Guide
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When it comes to historic surroundings, picturesque English landscapes and affordable luxury, Warwickshire is by no means short on choice.
Little wonder, then, that a historic gem like The Chequers Inn was so hungrily snapped up by first-time purchasers Paul and Aman Bhandal when the property was put up for resale last year.
Having won the hearts and stomachs of locals and visitors alike, this unassuming village pub came with a formidable reputation; featuring on the Tripadvisor Hall Of Fame list eight years running, it was also recommended in the Michelin Guide.
Situated off Banbury Road in the picturesque village of Ettington, just a short drive from Stratford-upon-Avon and the Cotswolds, this thriving 18th century public house only recently reopened its doors following a full-scale refurbishment of its 38-cover restaurant & bar. With the stakes and expectations raised, could this well-loved landmark really live up to its reputation?... The answer was a resounding yes!
An overflowing lobby leads to a light, bright and exquisitely decorated interior bar and casual dining space. Floral feature walls, Parisian-inspired lampshades, eclectic artworks, parlour-style tables and soft oak finishings combine to create a quirky marriage of style and informality, making the most of both the abundant natural light and bold statement colours.
We made our way to the main dining area, a space which boasted an altogether more tranquil marriage of soft creams, hunter greens and earthy wooden tones, complete with fully restored Inglenook fireplace, plush floor-length drapes and hand-printed wall-art. A perfect location in which to enjoy a spring evening.
A sense of springtime was also evident in the venue’s carefully chosen menu of seasonal specials, taster plates, hand-cooked pizzas and pub-grub classics. From continental favourites such as smoked salmon, artichoke & feta salad to pan-Asian-inspired dishes like the masala chickpea chaat starter with toasted pitta, this was a menu that placed freshness, quality and eclecticism at its heart.
Opting for a starter of red wine & thyme braised chorizo with tomato toast, I found myself momentarily transported to the tapas bars of Andalusia and Seville. Beautifully cooked with a rich paprika-smoked heat and complemented by the crisp texture of the tomato-infused ciabatta toast, the dish made me eager to sample more of the taster menu and sharer board.
Choosing for his starter the roast chicken, wild mushroom and spinach roulade served with piccallili and dressed leaves, my partner took no time at all in praising both the freshness and delicacy of the dish. Though the combination of chicken and spinach was a tad bland in itself, the roulade was instantly uplifted by the zesty punch of the piccalilli and earthy tones of the wild mushroom; a magnificent marriage of flavour which added extra depth to an ordinarily light-touch starter.
For a continental twist on a tried-and-tested pub classic, be sure to sample the pork & chorizo Scotch egg with spicy tomato sauce; a dish which has already proved a hit with regulars and day-trippers alike.
For my main course, I chose the pan-fried seabass with wild rice, black olives & cherry tomato compote. My carnivorous companion opted for the equally tempting braised lamb shoulder with spring greens, minted crushed new potatoes & red wine jus. Oozing freshness and pan-fried to perfection, the sea bass was, in so many ways, the perfect accompaniment to a spring evening.
That said, whilst the wild rice and black olives offered an ideal complement by way of flavour, I nevertheless couldn’t help but feel that the dish would’ve been improved by a more generous helping of red wine jus. This would have brought out the moisture in the fillets and helped undercut the heavily grained texture of the rice.
The braised lamb shoulder was tenderness to a tee, falling off the bone on the first touch of the knife and fork. The minted crushed new potatoes and spring greens delivered a refreshing taste, and one which was perfectly complemented by the rich fruitiness of the red wine accompaniment.
Watching the springtime sun go down over the Ettington countryside, I felt compelled to sample one of Chequers’ signature desserts. Tucking into the generously portioned lemon & lavender bundt cake, my sweet tooth was well and truly satisfied.
Beautifully light in texture and served with a delicately flavoured crème anglais and candied lemon accompaniment, this unusual choice of German dessert was impressively refreshing in taste. My partner’s selection of dark chocolate & orange tart with pistachio ice cream was decadence on a plate and every inch the chocaholic’s delight.
Whether serving up Sunday lunch to a family of day-trippers, pulling a pint for village locals or delivering that special-occasion dinner, The Chequers’ Inn hits the nail on the head where quality of produce, menu and atmosphere are concerned. Making the very best of its uniquely English surroundings, whilst at the same time channelling the culinary spirit of the continent, it’s not hard to see why the venue is pulling in the punters time and time again…
**** Katherine Ewing
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