Fri, 02 Nov 2018
Pictures: Dijana Capan
IT'S not often in Newbury that you can imagine you are sitting in a cool Brooklyn hotel or New York brasserie.
Not that I’m running the town down – it has plenty of gems of course – but the newly-refurbished Chequers Hotel and its Oxford Street Kitchen and Bar has a vibe that is unique in the town centre.
It is light and airy with the dining areas painted dark sage green, with low pendant lights.
Doors have been removed so you can spy the other eating areas, reception area and the bar, all of which makes it roomy yet cosy at the same time.
Horse-racing paintings adorn the walls and in the reception area there’s a grand picture of Highclere, so it does still give a nod to local tradition.
We’re served an aperitif at the smart bar by the charming Breton bar manager Yannick Hugo who looks after us very well all evening.
An extensive dinner menu, which errs on the side of bistro food, also includes sandwiches and lunchtime fare as well as breakfast and afternoon tea.
There’s a pretty garden at the back which is perfect for the afternoon tea.
We both opt for fish to start from a menu that includes a roasted vine tomato soup, a baked garlic Camembert, garlic and chive mushrooms and more.
I have a crayfish and avocado salad (£7.95), a tumble of crayfish, sweet yellow tomatoes, salad leaves and slivers of cucumber. There’s a feast of crayfish in here and for once it’s the main ingredient rather than the salad leaves. A mustardy vinaigrette on the side is sweet and with a little kick.
My companion Dijana goes for the potted Cromer crab on toast (£7.95) – the crab is zingily fresh and quenelled on to crispy white toast. All it needs is the sweet pea shoots on top.
The mains are divided into general mains, fish and steak. I have the fish and chips (£13.95) – beer battered fish with thin-cut chips and home-made mushy peas. The batter is crisp with bubbles that pop as you eat them, and the mushy peas are sweet and creamy.
Dijana has the lemon and thyme roasted chicken (£8.95) – two large moist legs atop a garlic confit that’s thick and unctuous. The lemon and thyme flavours are strong, but don’t overpower.
We’re advised by our server to have something from the sides menu (£3 each) and Dijana chooses green beans with almonds and creamed spinach with pine nuts – both are delicious.
We need a small breather before dessert – time to hope we’ve not guzzled all our aromatic Sicilian Mannara blush Pinot Grigio. No, we have enough to go with the rest of what’s proving to be a surprisingly good meal from head chef Sebastian Smith.
The lime cheesecake’s (£7) simple name defies the dish – a creamy quenelle of thick cheesecake mix shot through with lime peel and sitting on a buttery ginger crumb with some pools of raspberry coulis. It is sweet and tangy.
I have the cheese plate (£7.95 )– blue, Brie and a strong cheddar with apple, grapes and crackers. Any test of a cheeseboard is that it is most definitely not fridge-cold – this passed.
We also could have had a sticky toffee pudding or Oxford mess or a freshly-baked apple tatin.
We chat to Yannick after and take a trip to the aforementioned garden as the sun is setting.
The garden is most definitely English, certainly Newbury, pretty with nooks and crannies and a splendid view of the back of the property.
With 56 rooms at a really decent price and facilities for up to 120 for conferences, The Chequers and its newly-branded restaurant were a bit of a revelation.
Stop awhile for a drink or something to eat. It’s really rather swell.