(See my blog on steaks for the first half of this article)
The debate on steaks was clearly one held when the Tailor-Made Dining Company, the new South African owners of the Chequers, a very fine and aged British pub located conveniently on Marlow High Street, and four other fine British pubs, decided to market their brand of dining over here. I was told their steaks were originally South African but are now sourced from Australia (like the restaurant manager at the Chequers), though they are still aged the South African way – and tailor made to your personal requirements.
Sure enough, as we went through to the restaurant, some very fine hunks of beef were sitting in a fridge, waiting patiently to be carved and cooked: fillet, sirloin, rump and ribeye. Options thereafter include potatoes in various ways, side dishes, sauces, rubs on your steak and goodness knows what else – I may have missed something on the menu.
In general, my rules of thumb are that too much choice is not beneficial, and simpler tends to be better, though the TM Dining experience is geared as a package deal whereby you get your tailor-made steak plus a potato dish, sides and sauces. I think the main issue is not with the quality of the food but that it feels more like a marketing operation than anything else, whereby you enticed in and blinded by choices and not provided with any guideline prices for the tailored steaks on the menu – meaning it would be quite easy to rack up a huge bill without realising it.
By some spooky coincidence we both went for well-cut ribeye at a judicious weight (8oz for her, 10 for me), fat chips and blue cheese sauce on the side, with extras including mushrooms, onion rings and a salad. This was perhaps too much of a good thing, to the extent that neither of us ate starters or desserts, but trying to cram in more food to demonstrate value for money seems strongly geared to the American and South African model of dining.
Whatever the derivation of the steaks, they were unquestionably tender, perfectly rare as requested, and well-flavoured. The big chips came with jackets, and were not as crisp or fluffy as their equivalents eaten recently in Willington, but were tasty nonetheless. There was nothing amiss with the side dishes, and service was warm, friendly and helpful throughout. Luckily, the South African connection works well on the wine list – the bottle of pinotage ordered to accompany our steaks was both judiciously priced and bursting with fruity flavours.
So, a good dinner but I wish they had gone a little less for the packaged corporate chain image. Incidentally, we also ate a snack lunch in the bar at the same pub. This was less successful in that the “New York Deli Sandwich” came with fairly thin strips of meat (very unlike a true NY deli), without the obligatory pickled gherkin, and in baguette rather than the ciabatta I had ordered – in the absence of true NY rye bread. The caesar salad was deemed acceptable but not the best – smoked bacon bits were good but an option of anchovies would have been better, and the sauce was bottled. However, the beers were good and the service, again, was friendly.
A few subtle changes could turn the Chequers from a good place into a great one. It’s not great cuisine but such is the quality of the raw material they will not want for business, but they do have room for improvement in how the package works. I hope they listen, learn and continue to improve.
PS. Since I originally wrote this article, the company has now started sourcing its steaks from three locations (see here):
- Rare breed longhorn cattle
- Argentinian beef
- USDA Prime beef