Restaurant Review: Benicks @ The Chequers, Woolmer Green

A country pub restaurant provides a satisfying evening for food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne

THERE'S nothing like a bit of local history to get the juices flowing and the idea that the highwayman Dick Turpin might have passed by the place where I am about to eat is intriguing. This is The Chequers Inn in Woolmer Green, within a horse's ride of Turpin's reputed lair in Epping Forest in the early 1700s. It is temping to think he might have called in here , but the original building burned down in 1920 and the present structure dates from after that.Nick and Marian Darter don't overplay the Turpin connection, saying merely that the inn stands on the route supposedly used by him. Nevertheless, it's a good line and it adds to the charm of the place. The Darters and their son, Ben, who is the chef, bill themselves as 'a small, family-run business' with 'an efficient, friendly service' and first impressions are good, with an attractive building on the edge of the village, a large bar with real ale, and secluded garden.The restaurant, Benicks - as in Ben and Nick - follows the pattern of the bar with lots of dark wood beams and a comfortable atmosphere. It seems a typical pub eaterie at first glance, but there are surprises in store. To drink, we pick one of the two house reds, a 2007 Chilean cabernet sauvignon from Valle Andino, surprisingly good at �12.95. There is one house white at �11.95, plus a varied wine list.Back on the menu, yes, there is liver pate as a starter and sirloin among the mains and chocolate cheesecake for pudding, but while other places might stop there, Benicks takes that as a baseline and produces its own flourishes. For starters, we choose tempura battered king prawns with sweet chilli dipping sauce (�6.75) and the roasted flat mushroom, garlic, bacon and Cheddar bake (�4.95). The prawns are large and meaty and, like the mushroom dish, full of flavour. Both are ideal introductions to our mains. The first is pan fried sea bass with cherry tomato, chilli and smoked bacon salsa, asparagus and crushed buttered new potatoes (�13.25). The second is braised shank of lamb with rosemary and redcurrant gravy plus olive oil and herb roasted new potatoes (�10.95). In both cases, the main ingredient has clearly been carefully chosen and the accompaniments show someone with ambition at work.For dessert, we share the baked banana with Mars bar sauce and vanilla ice cream (�4.75). Other options are home-made shortbread with strawberries and cream, apple and berry crumble and, off menu, a dark chocolate, walnut and raspberry roulade. Enough said. A pleasant and rewarding evening.This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.


Benicks @ The Chequers16 London Road Woolmer Green SG3 6JP01438

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