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Both the food and the surroundings prove there is taste aplenty; MICHELIN STAR WINNER HAS SOMETHING FOR ALL TO ENJOY.

Byline: SALLY WILLIAMS

CHECKERS, a 17th-century coaching inn, has been completely remodelled by the team of two farmer's daughters and the French chef who have turned it into one of Wales best restaurants.

As a local I remember the old bar and restaurant at The Checkers, and the transformation is stunning.

There is now a log burner surrounded by comfortable sofas, plenty of space and a very relaxed feel.

The decor is exquisite, featuring Laura Ashley sofas and chestnut flooring from a felled tree on the family farm of owners Sarah and Kathryn Francis in Trefonen, on the Wales/Shropshire border.

And, of course, there's the food, created by Frenchman Stephane Borie, who is proud of the French influence.

"The apple never falls far from the tree," he tells me, with an echo of Eric Cantona.

As it was lunchtime, I opted for two starters and a dessert, instead of a main, so that I could have some light bites.

I chose wisely because they were absolutely superb.

The vintage Cheddar cheese souffle with leek salad and hazelnut dressing (pounds 8) was deliciously light and fluffy. Perfectly presented, the Cheddar blended beautifully with the leek base and the hazelnuts added sweetness to the savoury flavours.

Next came the salad of seared scallops, sweetcorn puree and Parmesan nage (a type of crisp biscuit) that gave it a real kick, pounds 12. The scallops were golden brown on the top and white inside; they were as tender and as sweet as lobster.

Also on the menu as mains were pork belly with roasted pear, wellington of hare with creamed potato, seasonal vegetables and a rich red wine jus (pounds 16) and fillet of Celtic Pride beef with pomme dauphine, white onion puree, creamy carrots and red wine jus (pounds 25). For dessert, the choice included lemon-scented crme brulee with ginger ice cream and chocolate and banana mousse with coconut ice cream (all pounds 6.50). I opted for plum and almond tart with amaretto ice cream, which was a wholesome autumnal treat.

What struck me about The Checkers is how comfortable it is. You are guaranteed to feel at home whether you escape there for sandwiches at lunchtime, indulge in afternoon tea and scones for two, or go there for a full fine dining experience.

In these tough economic times, the prices are refreshingly competitive too.

And you can be sure that you are helping to support Montgomeryshire businesses, such as Penarth Vineyard of Newtown and Monty's Real Ale, that both feature in the extensive drinks and wine list.

Mr Borie trained at the famous three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn in Bray and he said the restaurant's legendary chef Michel Roux was the first person to congratulate him and his partner Sarah Francis for gaining their new star in this year's Michelin Guide for food, which was published yesterday.

Mr Borie and his partner, both aged 33, spent seven years with Mr Roux in Bray, learning a passion for flavour, excellence and dedication.

The couple, who met and fell in love at the Waterside Inn and now have two young children, only arrived at The Checkers Restaurant with bar and rooms, in Montgomery, Powys, seven months ago.

And they were both beaming with happiness yesterday when I called in.

"Even Mr Roux rang to congratulate us this morning; he is very pleased with us," said Mr Borie.

"He told me 'hard work always pays'.

"Mr Roux is very important to us, we trained with him and it was very nice of him to ring."

The sense of pride in what the couple have achieved in the historic market town extends throughout Wales as a whole.

After growing up in Agen, France, Mr Borie's kitchen apprenticeship began in Bordeaux before he moved to London in the late 1990s.

He went on to Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons and Daylesford House as private chef to Sir Anthony Bamford, before opening The Herbert Arms at Chirbury, near Montgomery, where the couple gained a strong local following.

SALLY'S MEAL * Vintage Cheddar cheese souffle with leek salad and hazelnut dressing (pounds 8) * Salad of seared scallops, sweetcorn puree and Parmesan nage, a type of crisp biscuit (pounds 12).

* Plum and almond tart with amaretto ice cream, which was a wholesome autumnal treat. (pounds 6.50) * Cappuccino RATING: 10/10 COST pounds 28.25 COUPLE'S BOND OVER COOKING ST[ETH]PHANE BORIE'S kitchen apprenticeship began in Bordeaux before he moved to London in the late 1990s.

He met his partner, Sarah, who creates desserts and pastries at The Checkers, while training with Michel Roux at The Waterside Inn Bray.

Sarah and her sister Kathryn, who now runs front-of-house at The Checkers, grew up on a dairy farm. Sarah later went on to establish a successful business as a freelance chef, cooking across the UK and Europe.

The couple now have two young daughters, Lexie, four, and Roxanne, one, who share their parent''s passion for food.

The Checkers, on Broad Street, Montgomery, Powys, is open for morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. It is closed on Sunday and Mondays.

CAPTION(S):

* The Checkers restaurant at Montgomery in Powys * Sarah Francis, Stephane Borie and Kathryn Francis, co-owners of The Checkers restaurant
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 8, 2011
Words:870
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