Rural hotspot in Berrick Salome

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It’s always interesting when a pub changes hands to see what the new landlords have learned from the old. The eighteenth century The Chequers in Berrick Salome saw Mark and Sandra Duggan take over from a pub that seemed to have lost its mojo (and, ahem, it’s customers). Rather than radically overhaul the venue and pitchfork the locals into trying it out again, they’ve taken a more gentle approach, coaxing the good, great and hungry of Berrick Salome with their frankly delicious gastro fare, and good manners.

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The couple have form, already running the well-regarded Three Tuns pub in Henley (recommended in the Michelin guide for the last three years) as well as tucking several years of Carluccio’s experience under their belts, but with kids in tow, and more roaming room needed, they’ve ventured into rural South Oxfordshire.

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If you don’t know it, Berrick Salome is a quiet little village, which together with Berrick  Prior, Roke and Rokemarsh, forms a community of 250 villagers lying to the south west of the Chiltern Hills, and about 12 miles south east of Oxford. There’s nothing much in the village, apart from the pub and a very pretty church of note (which of course I had a peek at as you’ll see later), which is a short walk away, and on the day I visited there seemed to be more horses than cars on the road, so the pace of life is very gentle. Ideal for a Sunday lunch and a stomp across the fields.

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The Chequers’ interior doesn’t reinvent the wheel – it’s at heart a good village pub – but there are some interesting touches like Berrick Salome Post Office sign (one of its early incarnations), a high backed church chair (I’m guessing) and a brightly painted brick wall in the private hire room at the back of the pub. It’s all quite rustic and tasteful, with open fires and lots of oak and low painted beams, the kind of place that would feel like a refuge on a cold wintery night.

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The food sets it apart from run-of-the-mill local pubs, because it’s really superior stuff. I went straight for a main course, pan-fried chicken with puy lentils which sounds a bit healthy and hair-shirt, but it tasted surprisingly indulgent. The chicken was sooo tender, cooked to perfection (how do chefs do that? mine always ends up rubbery or hard on the outside) and the lentils in particular were incredibly moreish.

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It was enough in itself, particularly for lunch, but managed to stretch my stomach lining to a cheesecake – my favourite dessert. A thin crunchy base which I like and a smooth ‘cheese’ that didn’t blow its good looks by being too sweet.

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Also worth noting that the staff were lovely, friendly and knowledgeable without being too overfamiliar (no use of the word ‘guys’ thankfully), which continues to be my bugbear with modern service, and also if you have fidgety kids there’s a decent sized garden outside.

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I’d say The Chequers is ideal for a relaxed Sunday lunch (the main pub/bar area is the best bit if you want to ask for it in advance). Although they don’t yet provide a list of good walks in the area (Note to all rural pubs: they’re really useful for customers and easy to create!) I have had a little dig around and this one (Walk 2 on the list, a 4 mile tromp from Benson through Berrick Salome and then back again) looks doable for families with kids, or couples who want to stretch their legs before tucking. I haven’t done this walk myself so don’t kill me if you suddenly find yourself stuck in mulch on a boggy field, but it all sounds very doable.

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Alternatively if you just want a mooch around the village, there’s the quartet of Berrick Salome, Berrick Prior, Roke and Rokemarsh you can walk around, or if you really want to conserve your energy for mastication (I said mastication!!)  wander for five minutes to Berrick Salome’s St Mary’s church – definitely worth visiting, if like me, you love history and architecture and peering at old fonts. Well, there are worse things to admit to! It appears to date from the 11th century in parts, and there’s a fabulous Romanesque font (hey, wake up, this is *interesting*!). Oh blah thrwup raspberries, go see for yourself, you’ll love it.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: families, relaxed gatherings with friends, a pop in lunch or dinner if you want something good quality but no fuss. The owners have two children of their own so it’s very kid-friendly.

Not for: anyone looking for a more urbane buzz, families looking for all singing-all dancing outside areas – the garden is perfectly decent with children’s play equipment but we’re not talking kids play park here.

£££: Mid-range prices Two course weekday lunch menu £10.95. Starters £6-9, Sunday lunches £13-16.

Please note the pub is closed on Tuesdays!

The Chequers, Berrick Salome, Wallingford. Tel: 01865 89111. OX10 6JN. chequersberricksalome.co.uk

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