Hidden away in a little village on the Wales/England border is a posh little restaurant that could easily fit in in any large European city. This restaurant is called The Checkers.
If you have been following us for a while then you know that Tim and I really enjoy food and find special pleasure in trying different tasting menus around Europe, especially if they come with a paired wine flight (bonus if it’s local/national wines like in Budapest!). It’s been a few years since we’ve had a proper tasting menu and wine pairing, so when my friend Paula suggested The Checkers in Montgomery, Wales, where we stayed this weekend, I jumped at the chance.
In proper preparation for Italy, our dinner seating wasn’t until 8 pm. When we arrived we were seated in a beautiful and homey (homely if you’re British… that isn’t confusing is it?) dining room. The restaurant had maybe 10 or 12 tables and was small but not tiny. It really did have a feeling of walking in and having dinner at a friend’s, albeit very posh, house. White linen adorned our table and we laughed as I tried to maintain its cleanliness throughout the seven plus course evening.
We chose to have the vegetarian menu because the regular tasting menu included a lot of sea food and lamb, neither of which I eat. I don’t mind if Tim does but, if I read the restaurant’s requirements correctly, the entire table had to choose the same tasting menu.
So we sat down, excited to get eating as we hadn’t eaten much all day and were promptly given some delicious choux buns filled and topped with cheese. Along side, some olives and spiced nuts. A proper appertivo. If you’re counting, this is Course -1!
Then Course 0 arrived. Two small baguettes of steaming hot sourdough bread with amazing butter. The bread was so warm and delicious. The butter delectable that it led Tim and I to wonder aloud if the butter in Italy will be as amazing as it is in the UK because there’s really something special about butter here that I just can’t describe.
Courses -1 and 0 weren’t served with wine which was good because hanging with seven glasses of wine was plenty hard enough.
Course 1 was Broccoli and Potato Veloute. Anyone else not know what veloute is? I had no idea so I was pleasantly surprised when it came out to be basically…. broccoli and potato soup with blue cheese in it. According to google a veloute is a sauce made from a roux and stock… so we ate a sauce as a course? I’m not complaining though. It was absolutely stellar. The paired wine was Menade Organic Verdejo from Spain and really enhanced the cheesiness of the soup. 10/10 start to the evening.
An Isle of Wight Tomato Salad was Course 2. What makes it an Isle of Wight salad you ask? The tomatoes apparently. They come from the island and are, according to the waitress and the table next to us, something very special since the sun and the soil and all the things are just right. With a little bit of tapenade, fennel, sliced olives and oil this was a deliciously fresh salad. The only Italian wine of the night, Tenuta Aquilaia Fermentino added a nice bright flavor.
Next up was Course 3, Aubergine & Ras el Hanout. I was dreading this as I’m not an aubergine (or eggplant if you’re American) fan, but this was actually surprisingly delicious. If you’re like me and din’t know what Ras el Hanout is, it’s a spice mixture found in different forms in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. There’s no set mixture of spices but it literally means “head of the shop” so it’s likely the best spices that particular place has. The spices can include things like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, dried ginger, chili peppers, etc. When I discussed this with the chef he said I don’t like aubergine either as it’s so bland, so I find you have to pack it with a ton of spices. He did a great job of that for sure. On top of the pureed aubergine/spice mix was sour cream, spring onion and wild rice the texture of rice crispies cereal. What a fun mix this was. The wine paired with this dish was Bodegas Castro Martin A20 Albariño from Spain. To be honest, I don’t remember a ton about this wine. I’m sure it paired nicely and I drank the glass. What I remember the most was the label that looked like it was drawn on graph paper with colored markers. I thought it was modern and fun and even commented so to the waitress. (a graphic designer’s curse (or blessing) you notice label design everywhere you go, for better, or often, worse).
Course 4 was what I wanted all evening and what Tim was probably dreading the most; the herb risotto. Topped with Tunworth Cheese (similar to brie) and pine nuts this risotto had a delicious creamy truffle flavor. We both loved every bite. See the cheese on top in the image? It soon melted into the risotto making it even creamier. So delicious. The only red wine of the evening was served with this course, Chateau de Coulaine Chinon Rouge from France. Though I’m not a big red wine fan, the leafy and fruity notes of this wine really helped balance out the richness of the risotto and honestly without the wine the creamy rich of the cheese and truffle would have been too much. It absolutely fascinates me how properly paired wine can improve a meal so much.
Four courses into the seven course meal and we’ve already moved on to dessert! This is my kind of meal! Course 5 was rhubarb and custard. I don’t know what the chef did to the rhubarb but it was almost candied or dried and popped in your mouth similar to pop rocks. Somewhere in there were flavors of hibiscus, white chocolate and pistachio. It was such a fun take on dessert. They all mixed so well together. The wine with this was a Spanish wine, Ontanon Marco Gabio Moscatel. I wasn’t a huge fan as it was pretty sweet, but it paired nicely. (It honestly floors me that I used to basically solely drink Moscato and other really sweet wines, they’re just usually too much for me now a days).
Next up, more dessert. Course 6 was a warm, salted caramel tart topped with créme fraîche. Here is where I stopped drinking the wine because it was just too much sweet for me to handle. But the tart itself was excellently done. For me this was the delicious end to a wonderful dinner. As am American, we are used to the sweet treat signaling the end of dinner. Of course, in Europe this is often not the case, so we did have one more course to go.
Lastly, we had Course 7, a cheese course of blue cheese, dark fruit chutney and crackers/bread. Tim and I were both so full that we couldn’t really enjoy this course. I had a few bites but it wasn’t my favorite. I would surely enjoy this treat on a summer’s day with a gin and tonic sitting on a picnic blanket, but by the time I’ve had all this other food, I just didn’t want it. I also didn’t enjoy the final pairing as it was vermouth (Still Wild Sweet Rosso Vermouth) and that’s just not quite my thing.
Though it ended on a slightly meh note, we were still super pleased with the meal. It was pricey but absolutely worth every penny. The food, wine pairings and service were all impeccable. The quaintness of the restaurant made me feel relaxed, which is good when you’re spending a three hour dinner somewhere.
I hope you enjoyed this little meal by proxy. I thought I’d try something new on here. I don’t often write in depth about our food journeys because it’s not always worthy of so many words. But this one definitely was. I highly recommend, if you have the money and the time, to try a wine pairing tasting menu. You might not get out to this tiny village in Wales, but there are plenty of tasting menus around! You will learn so much about wine and food and taste some things you probably wouldn’t ever choose otherwise.
Do you have any tasting menu recommendations in Europe? If so, please send them to me!
If you are intrigued by where we eat, please check out Fernweh Foodies. I don’t expound on dishes over there, but I do recommend restaurants. It’s organized by city and country and I’ve personally eaten in and enjoyed every restaurant on there.
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