Whether sunshine breaks through or not, late summer is the perfect time for a day trip to enjoy our green and pleasant land.
And though the litany of ‘The Capital’s new Eats’, ‘Top steaks in London’ and ‘Where to brunch’ emails would have you believe that the capital is the only place to dine, outside of the big smoke there are a plethora of dining gems to enjoy.
Top of our crop would be Marlow – for the river views and proximity to London (well, we wouldn’t want to go too far too soon).
After a one-hour train journey from London we chuffed our way through the flourishing river valley and arrived in the market town of Marlow. We headed for the riverbank, city mice breathing in gulps of country air, and then mooched around the well-heeled boutiques before hitting our lunch spot, Chequers.
Sitting pretty on the high street, Chequers is an ancient pub with low beams, little snugs and a proper old bar serving great ales, scotch eggs and piccalilli. The building itself dates back to the 16th century and is said to have been a hostelry for all of that time but now tartan throws, reupholstered chairs, vintage grey mirrors and couplets of stylish wingbacks complete the look.
The real showstopper, however, is the butcher’s block kitchen and dining room.
Butcher’s block dining essentially means you can view an array of ruby-coloured cuts of beef, and decide exactly which and how much you would like. The sirloin, fillet and ribeye is scythed in front of you, and then scuttled to the kitchen, cooked to perfection and served with a mass of truffle chips and creamy sides.
In the case of Chequers, the butcher’s block is set to the side of the dining area, and the countertop sits atop a traditional butcher’s bicycle.
The theatre of being able to select your cut of meat will please large groups – but it’s not all for show. All the beef is 100-day aged Australian grain fed sourced by Tom Hixson of Smithfield Market and sits temptingly in shiny fridge cabinets at the butcher’s block. Sidle up, select your cut of burgundy, marbled steak and let the chef do the work. It’s speed dating, of the best sort.
Starters are priced from £3-£8 (prices on the whole are wallet friendly and a breath of fresh air if you’re coming from the inflated menus of London). Salt and pepper squid with aioli was crisp and zingy and mushrooms on toast, velvety, luscious and earthy.
Of course, the pièce de résistance was still to come.
I opted for a ribeye (£8.90 per 100g), my other half the steak & Brakspear Black pie, mash, greens & gravy £14 and neither disappointed.
The pie, made using cuts of succulent steak was robed in thick sauce and packed full of flavour. The ribeye – charred, glistening and marbled – was seriously good.
My Tramontina blade – we should have known we were on to a good thing when we saw these world-best steak knives on the table – glided through the succulent flesh like butter. The chips were double cooked for crispiness and the bernaise buttery and golden.
This is not the place for detox dieters and we rounded things off rather appropriately with a sticky toffee pudding – oozing one of the best caramel sauces we’ve lapped up in some time.
If you’re in search of a good day out or simply want a thoroughly good feed, Chequers is a little-known gem with lots to offer. Steak lovers rejoice, this historic hostelry (and its excellent staff) know good steak and the prices are wallet friendly. It’s a butcher’s block that will knock your socks off.
Chantal Borciani is a travel and food journalist and tweets @ChantalBorch