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Chequers, Cutnall by Philippe Boucheron

Philippe lunches at the winner of this year’s Worcestershire Life Dining Pub of the Year.

The Chequers at Cutnall Green

No short cuts taken in this kitchen

Gastropub is a hideous expression. It conjures up visions of village inns turned into pastiches of smart West End restaurants serving over-priced dishes of mediocre quality. Unfortunately, there is no other word that adequately describes The Chequers at Cutnall Green, the richly deserved winner of our first County Dining Pub of the Year.

There is a choice of good beers on tap in the bar – one of Egon Ronay’s key criteria for gastropubs in his last year’s Guide – and first class cooking, using local produce – yet another of Egon’s absolutes. Roger Narbett runs the place with all the charm and skill of his late father, John, who made the Bell at Bell End, Belbroughton, the place for good food all those years ago. That was before the brewers threw them out to turn the place into a steak house. So John and Roger went to Birmingham and made Sloanes, their Harborne restaurant, the smartest place to eat in Birmingham.

In those far off days at the Bell, when Roger was just 18 and still at Halesowen College, we knew that there was a star in the kitchen. He went on to win Young Chef of the Year for two years, then runner up and finally winner of Chef of the Year. This win took him to the kitchens of London’s Dorchester Hotel, but as soon as he could he returned to his native Worcestershire.

It is true that from time to time Roger is an absente landlord, but only when his duties as chef to the England football squad take him away all over the world. The day before he and his wife Sue collected their award he had just returned with the team from Estonia!

Strangely enough I have never before reviewed the Chequers, so I slipped a notebook into my pocket and took Mme. B out to lunch. I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account of the three delicious courses that we enjoyed. Suffice it to say that my local Harvington ‘sparrow grass’ grilled with baby mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and drizzle of Balsamic vinegar was crunchy and full of flavour.

The star of the meal, however, was the glorious red cabbage on which rested the rosy breast of my Greshingham duck. It even eclipsed Mme. B’s superb sea bas, also served with fresh asparagus. I have eaten red cabbage all over the world, once in Germany it provided the bed on which a seemingly whole deer was carried shoulder high on a bier, like the gory remains of some fallen hero! More often than not the cabbage is either over-spiced, has more cloves than my grandmother’s baked apples, or reeks of malt vinegar. But here was red cabbage that had obviously taken hours to prepare, sweating down onions and garlic, using hints of Chinese five-spice, good red wine, and other secret ingredients. No shortcuts had been taken with cooking the cabbage that was both succulent and crunchy with rich, but not overpowering flavours. It complemented the tender, pink duck cooked to perfection to preserve all its juices that added their own distinctive character to the dish.

If you feel that I have waxed too lyrical over the veg’, then please forgive me. It does show the tremendous attention to detail that helped make Roger Chef of the Year and which is still maintained in his kitchen.

After the desserts – don’t ask, very naughty but very, very nice – there was excellent coffee. Now I have said it before, but why don’t British restaurateurs pay more attention to their coffee? It is so often either pallid and dull or stewed and nasty. It is, after all, the final impression that we take away with us, and surely the management wants us to have happy memories?

At £70.00 for two, including two very large glasses of wine, this was in my opinion excellent value for such an outstanding quality of cooking.

Ends

© Philippe Boucheron MMVll

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