The Checkers is a smart and sophisticated restaurant located in the pretty town of Montgomery. The interior was refashioned in 2016 and painted in neutral colours, with understated art work adding a touch of class. Here’s the rest of our review for the restaurant:
The Checkers review of practices, led them to remove the menu. This is a good call sound and benefits the customers. By taking choice from the menu Stéphane eliminates food waste and buys only what he knows he will sell, giving him money to divert to the finest quality produce. The Checkers isn’t the only chef restaurant with a no-choice ‘market menu’. Fixed menus allows the restaurant to source what’s available at market on any given day to create the best dishes possible using those ingredients.
Service is exceptional. Stéphane is joined in the kitchen by his partner, Sarah, while her sister, Kathryn, runs the restaurant and is ably assisted by two exceptional young waitresses. Service is informal, engaging and polite yet very professional. Guests are afforded the warmest of welcomes, and dishes are explained without fuss.
Stéphane is a true classicist. After the team moved to their newly renovated restaurant in Montgomery, Stéphane was honoured and surprised to win a Michelin Star in October 2011, seven months after opening. He has retained the Michelin Star ever since and is likely to hold onto it for several more. His dishes have the same class and precision as those at the Waterside and Le Manoir restaurants. They are deceptively simple, yet it takes real skill to make things look this easy.
The food is so good it’s easy to run out of superlatives. Highlights from the menu that have remained over the years since include the cheese soufflé with an apple and almond salad; the French onion soup with gruyère croutons that is rich, savoury, delicate and sweet and the poached monkish served with a fine langoustine consommé and an intense sprout purée.
Other dishes sampled for this review included a velouté of curried parsnip with a thyme cream and smoked pheasant that was wonderfully seasoned. The gentle warmth of the curry raised the earthy, sweet parsnip and gamy pheasant with a luxurious twist coming from the rich, savoury thyme cream.
A selection of breads were sublime, with the highlights being grain mustard and olive varieties. The Checkers’ pastry section also shines, with light, beautifully aerated varieties providing nourishment between courses.
A Blaenavon cheese soufflé with a salad of Granny Smith apple and almonds was heavenly. The salad was beautifully seasoned with the acid from the sharp apple cutting through the intensity of the cheese and the almonds adding texture and a balance of flavours.
The fish course was the highlight of the night, comprising a nantua sauce (a French classic, made from Bechamel, cream, crayfish butter and crayfish tails) with a roast scallop, squid, langoustine, ravioli and sole filled with truffle. The cooking was exemplary: the langoustine and squid were soft and tenderly cooked while the truffle was generous and raised the dish. The scallop was sweet, salty, fat and delicious, having been beautifully caramelised.
A coconut granite with an intense almond foam provided a transition to the main; seared fillet of Celtic pride beef with braised oxtail, a heavenly and silky pomme mousseline with white onion purée and a decadent red wine jus. The flavours matched perfectly with skilful seasoning and beautiful presentation.
A vanilla panna cotta with rhubarb jelly was a taste of the season while a dish of desserts featured a chocolate and pear mousse, with the pear purée hidden inside a chocolate that was hidden inside the mousse, plus a buttery crème brûlée and a creamy, warm stem ginger ice cream in a brandy snap basket.
Our review in summary, would be that The Checkers’ improved menu and refurbished dining room together with the already-first class front-of-house skills of Kathryn and her team and exquisite cooking of Stéphane and his kitchen team keeps the restaurant in the top rankings for Shropshire and Mid-Wales. There really is nothing to find fault in at this family-run restaurant and it’s well worth a visit.