Mmmm for Marlow
The Chequers on Marlow's chichi high street is a carnivore's paradise. But, um, what happens when a vegetarian goes to review?
The Chequers is a dead cert for meat enthusiasts with its immense Butcher’s Block and hefty, hearty steak dinners. But how does it fare for a veggie meal or a lighter lunch? We know, we know!
God I love Marlow. The river, the shopping, the groovy playground, the parking (OK that bit’s a lie, the traffic’s terrible). You’ll find The Chequers bang in the middle of the action, half way down the High Street, part of the local Brakspear brewing and pub empire for the last 120 years no less.
The 16th century inn, which also has nine boutique rooms above, was reinvented as a steak specialist a couple of years ago so, as you can imagine, there’s a massive emphasis on meat here, embodied by a show-stopping Butcher’s Block in the middle of the restaurant. The Chequers also hosts regular nights like a Wednesday quiz and Gin-Dependence Thursday (every single shot is upgraded to a double).
Next door you’ll find an adjoining alehouse, The Churchill Tap, which is available for hire, hosts regular tasting pop-ups (is it me or is Marlow getting cooler by the minute?) and has one of the best craft beer offerings in the county.
We arrived on a scorching Friday lunchtime, around 1pm, and launched ourselves at the only free picnic-style table out front (you can’t book these, so stay eagle eyed to swoop in and pinch one).
The pub is much bigger inside than you’d think. At the front there’s relaxed seating, ideal for post-work drinks, and large bar area with a vaulted ceiling complete with much needed skylights that make the space lighter as there are very few windows.
You’ll like the decor in here I reckon – think heritage meets hipster, with traditional features like heavy exposed beams and large bull horns up on the wall mixed with industrial accents like cool lighting, cutlery in repurposed tins (that each have a boozy fact scribbled on them), plus posters of The Who, The Beetles and Jimmy Hendrix up on the wall.
The heart of the building is snug-like and primed for winter afternoons eating the Sunday carvery – mix’n’match tartan upholstery, a corner fireplace, old newspaper clippings on the wall and – the star of the show – the Butcher’s Block and meat fridge. Right at the back there’s a larger dining area with funky, hanging Edison bulbs and a groovy tiled floor, only bettered locally by the Bull on Bell St in Henley (another Brakspear pub, as it happens).
There’s also the neighbouring Churchill Tap (below), which is a separate space but connected to the pub by a corridor to the left and can be booked for beer tasting sessions. Mis-matched furniture, more photos than wall space, low exposed beams and dark wood, it’s the epitome of an proper English country drinking pub, with the exception of a few modern posters, more industrial lighting above the bar and a chalkboard scribbled with the week’s offering of craft beer that comes in from breweries around the UK and further afield.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The Chequers’ whole brand revolves around meat – the Butcher’s Block sits proud and centre, but if you’re not crazy for the carne (I’m a pescatarian) there’s still plenty to love here. Six of the nine main dishes (excluding the separate grill section) are fish or plant based. Lunch is off to a good start.
Had it been a chilly day sat inside by the fireplace, I would have chosen my go-to pub lunch of fish and chips (served her as haddock coated in Brakspear ale and served with pea puree and triple cooked chips), but seeing as it’s such a lovely warm day, I go for a salad – a cold Asian offering, from the á la carte menu (you can choose from this or a separate lunch menu), made from shavings of carrot, cucumber, bok choi, pepper, red chilli and mooli (a tasty white Asian radish). There’s also the option to add halloumi, steak or chicken for an extra £5.
It was light, refreshing and the peanutty Shanghai sauce was particularly tasty – a balance of rich, sweet and salty flavours.
My plus-one opted for the new lunch menu, picking a dry aged 6oz flat iron steak with garlic and rosemary butter, swapping the chips for a House Salad, much to my annoyance (you know those people who don’t get chips then eat all of yours? Yup, that’s me). The steak was perfectly tender – my plus one promised himself to come back for the larger offering (with the top secret steak glaze) from the Grill menu, and he lives in Oxford, so that’s saying something!
For dessert ice-cream is a must and if you’re looking for an excuse to double-dose (like, always), it’s entirely natural and additive free. My dense gooey chocolate and vanilla honeycomb was delicious, though if you’re feeling more adventurous the à la carte Bailey’s Cream cheesecake and citron tart also sounded fabulous.
OUT & ABOUT
Shopping is the obvious choice – Marlow boasts one of the best fashion shopping high streets in Buckinghamshire, with Mint Velvet, Whistles and Jigsaw and a clutch of stylish independent boutiques vying for your money. If you want to make a day of it, meander along the river in Higginson Park, or take a short drive to Disraeli’s former home and National Trust site Hughenden Manor. Henley is a 20 minute drive if you want an alternative rivers/shopping experience (hell, why not go for it and compare the two?). The gorgeous Cliveden is just a few mile outside Marlow – there’s a beautiful riverside walk that takes you up to the iconic Palladian hotel and its National Trust grounds.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Post-work pints (if you don’t like the golden nectar there are 21 artisan gins here too) or a relaxed meal with the fam – kids are welcome and there’s a separate children’s menu. If you’re a big meat eater you’ll obviously love it here, but the food is surprisingly varied and there are some great lighter options.
Not for: The Chequers is still a local pub at heart so if you’re looking for a super-refined setting and menu to match then it probably isn’t for you. The outdoor space is limited so its particular strength is throughout Autumn and Winter.
The damage: The lunch menu is decent all under £13, whilst the á la carte menu ranges from £9.95 for salads up to £25 for a 10oz sirloin steak which, considering the quality of meat here, I think is pretty reasonable. Starters are priced around £8, desserts £6. If you want to use the Butcher’s Block, you pay for what you pick.
The Chequers, 53 High Street, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 1BA. Tel:01628 482 053
Words: Nancy Serle