Sometimes a restaurant review almost writes itself. No need for tricks, back stories or novelty twists, the food tells its own story.
So it was at the Chequers Inn at Froggatt Edge, long-known for its quality dining.
The previous custodian of this column had an indifferent experience there in 2008 – the chef was off that night.
But the chef was on the night we went, bang on.
The current chef is Brandon Shepherd, a 25-year-old from Somerset who came to the Chequers last October via the Red Lion at Stanage and three years in France – including six-months at the Michelin starred Le Farcon in Trois Vallee in the Alps.
You don’t see ‘anchovy snow’ or ‘chocolate soil’ on many menus round here – more on those later.
Brandon took over as head chef in March when Carl Riley left to open Riley’s in Bakewell.
“I was happy to take over and I needed to career-wise,” said Brandon.
“I have rewritten the a la carte menu and I’m working on a new summer menu to introduce in July. I want it to have a really fresh feel.”
The Chequers Inn, on the hill below Froggatt Edge, is a 16th century pub that’s retained its charm and managed to move with the times. Times that demand proper food and good ale.
Debbie Robinson has worked there for 13 years.
“The food gets better every year, it has to,” said Debbie.
“The competition gets stronger all the time and we have to keep improving. This is the best food we’ve served since I’ve been here.”
We started with two halves each, one Bakewell Best Bitter and the other Chatsworth Gold, both by Peak Ales Brewery and made on the Chatsworth estate, both deep, rich and excellent.
We chose items from the menu and the specials board and started with home made pork scratchings with Henderson’s mayo and HP sauce.
These are like no other scratchings you’ve seen.
Billowing golden clouds of piggy perfection with taste and crunch. We got beautiful warm bread, olive oil and balsamic and for starters I had quail breast in a mushroom and thyme fricassee and a quail broth.
The food looks five-star and the richness of the sauce complemented the delicate flavour and texture of the moist, perfectly cooked quail.
My mate Rob had a starter of rabbit with pine nuts and orange. As he noted you wouldn’t think to put rabbit with either of those things but they went perfectly.
The rabbit fall-apart tender, the creaminess of the pine nuts and a hint of orange made for a delightful plate of food that looked and tasted sensational.
We were one of four busy tables in the bar, the other three taken by couples.
The first pair spoke occasionally about their food, the second talked constantly and animatedly and the third couple, head down in newspapers, sipped their after-dinner coffee and didn’t say a word all night.
For main course I had Derbyshire lamb rump, potato puree, peas, roasted butternut squash, anchovy snow, red wine and thyme jus. Stunning. Although the young waitress didn’t ask how I’d like the lamb cooked, it was a delight, if a little rare for me. Sweet and tender, full of flavour, it went brilliantly with the squash and the richness of the jus.
Then there’s the anchovy snow that looked like… real snow.
Creamy and savoury but without a fishy hit, the snow’s flavours were enhanced by a seriously smooth and rich potato puree.
Rob chose hake and mussels in a creamy sauce from the specials board. The flesh of the fish was firm and meaty and nicely cooked with a sauce that lifted the dish to further heights. Top stuff.
By this time the newspapers were read and the previously silent woman pulled out a Kindle and began reading. When she caught me noseying she said she couldn’t remember what it was called.
I wondered if she wasn’t sneaking a swift session with Fifty Shades of Grey but she said not - though she did seem a little flustered and left without her coat only to return for it twenty-shades-of-red-faced when called back by staff. Damning evidence some might say.
Chocolate and orange are pretty irresistible especially with the added intrigue of ‘chocolate soil’ - Debbie assures us it’s delicious. She’s right again.
A rich, moussey chocolate delice with a layer of orange jelly, splashes of orange puree and chocolate sauce, candied orange slices and candied orange zest which was crunchy and gorgeous. The chocolate soil is made from almonds, butter, cocoa powder and sugar - sheer earthly delight.
Rob had the cheese and biscuits – he asked for two cheese varieties and got one more free along with grapes, celery and home-made pickle. He loved the Peakland Blue from Derbshire’s Hartington Dairy, liked the Sage Derby and we both fell completely for the Hartington Bomber, cheese at its very best.
The Chequers is a special occasion meal out and our three courses, snack scratchings and two pints came to £78.60. Worth every penny.