The Chequers Inn Bilton teaches me a bit of a lesson: Never to judge a book by its cover!
It’s a dark old place is the A1 heading towards Wetherby on a cold and blustery evening in mid January, and that it doesn’t improve much when you take the remote unlit windy roads towards The Chequers Inn near to the village of Bilton. But that’s the charm of Yorkshire; the excitement of rural landscapes.
I headed to this secluded pub not far from Wetherby Race Course, invited there to experience its southern Italian evening, a regular event in which bookings are mandatory and demand is high. An evening in which the chef can demonstrate his European culinary knowledge and create a challenge for the sommelier to pair wines to a spectacular four course menu.
Entry in to The Chequers Inn is somewhat under whelming, and at first even wondered if was in the right place. Can a rather tired looking pub create food that promised so much on reading the menu?
Chipped unloved tables, walls and carpets that have seen better days gives The Chequers a real drinkers pub feel, but this is not to the venue’s detriment. Every pub has its place, although I just can not get my head around them putting together such an amazing sounding menu. Never judge a book by its cover is a lesson I’m clearly going to have to learn!
Seated next to the roaring fire, a pint of landlord and it wasn’t long before the canapés made the rounds. Suddenly a chipped table was the last thing I was thinking of. Goats cheese croquettes, Parma ham wrapped figs, bruschetta and asparagus teased my pallet. Four croquettes later I was holding back from having any more of these delicate gems in fear I wouldn’t be able to get through to dessert.
To start we were presented with a fillet of sea bass on a celeriac, fennel and chicory ‘slaw with lemon and garlic dressing, The sea bass was cooked fantastically, being scored in all the right places and the skin was lovely and crispy. It did, however, play second fiddle to a ‘slaw that overpowered such a delicate fish. Independently the two elements to the dish were good but together it just didn’t work.
The main was a different story. Slow braised shin of beef with cinnamon and paprika, herb gnocchi and rosemary focaccia. In essence this was beef gravy, potatoes and a slab of bread, but on a grander, more sophisticated level. The beef was braised beautifully, the large gnocchi was truly outstanding and the focaccia was incredibly well made. It was a truly outstanding dish, one that made me want to make it myself again.
The success of the main continued into the dessert. Vanilla panna cotta with lemon biscotti and stewed plums. Now that was a panna cotta – a lovely wobble to rich cream that’s flecked with vanilla. The stewed plums worked perfectly, a delicate sweetness, which complimented the panna cotta well.
We finished with a cheese board, which as you would expect included some Italian classics such as dolcelatte and pecorino, both of which were outstanding examples of the Italians cheese-making expertise.
A familiar face was our wine expert for the evening, Gary Smulders from Hallgarten Wines, who had the tough task of matching the wines to the food for the evening. And what a tremendous job he did, the highlight being the Tareni del Duca Nero D’Avola, a Sicilian medium to full bodied red. Simply outstanding!
£35 gets you a seat at the table for this epic Italian evening at The Chequers Inn. Great food, amazing wines and for a mid-week night a pretty good atmosphere too.