The region has lost its final Michelin star. The Checkers, at Montgomery, has handed back the esteemed accolade as its chef-patron, Stephane Borie, goes it alone.
The masterful chef, who worked under Michel Roux and Mark Dodson at The Waterside, has ventured into the world of private cheffing, bringing the curtain down on an 18-year run of Michelin stars in Shropshire and Mid-Wales.
The gold rush began in 2000 when three Ludlow restaurants earned a star and another earned a Bib Gourmand. It continued when a further Ludlow restaurant earned a star, another earned a further Bib Gourmand and Mr Borie won his Michelin star.
One by one, the chefs have moved onto other things – some bigger and better, others not so – leaving Mr Borie as the last man standing. But now he too has decided to call it a day and The Checkers will open for lunches having been rebranded as Checkers Pantry.
No doubt while Mr Borie is cooking for millionaires, A-Listers and a decidedly wealthy clientele, the team at Checkers Pantry will be offering great lunches. For, in essence, they are what makes this region great. Shropshire and Mid-Wales have an abundance of great independent restaurants where decent local produce is at the forefront.
That’s certainly the USP at Number Four, in Shrewsbury, which has gone from strength to strength in recent years. The 2018 guise is bigger, ballsier and more confident than ever with breakfasts, lunches, dinners, tapas and a kids menu.
It fills the gap that Eat Up used to fill, when husband and wife team Brian and Amy Turner ran their successful and still-missed restaurant at Milk Street.
Number Four won’t ever win any Michelin stars – nor, for that matter, is it likely to win plaudits from AA, Harden’s, The Good Food Guide or others. It’s not that sort of joint. It aims to please, rather than impress, and is all the better for it. It serves the sort of food that people like to eat; rather than dishes that showcase cheffing skills.
It’s family friendly and occupies a large space on Butcher Row, opposite House of the Rising Sun. There’s a small-ish downstairs area for wine and tapas and a gargantuan upstairs space for fuller dinners.
The space is light and airy, simply decorated and boasts an open plan kitchen, so that guests can literally watch as their dinners are cooked. The tables and chairs are simple and lack ostentation, the service is quick and buzzy, with engaged staff flitting between guests and offering complimentary bonhomie.
It’s the sort of place that doesn’t require advance booking. There’s ample space and tables are generally available at the last minute.
It’s one of Shrewsbury’s better independents. It’s owners have created a good concept and have improved their offering as the years have gone on, constantly refining and bringing their venture further into line with what locals want.
I stopped off for a midweek supper, walking in without having booked and being shown to an empty table upstairs.
It was early evening but the venue was already busy with plenty of couples and families enjoying dinners.
Number 4 is an inclusive place and there were just as many children and teens eating with adults as there were chums out for a social gathering and workers enjoying post-office suppers.
There’s a tapas menu and a dinner menu for evening guests; the former being served in the downstairs wine bar and the latter being served upstairs and representing good value for money with two courses for £18 and three for £22.
I skipped pre-dinner snacks – filling bread with balsamic and olive oil, mixed marinated olives and fried mixed nuts (who fries nuts? What’s that about?). Instead, I opted for a light, vegetarian option: a beetroot carpaccio with candied walnuts and whipped goat’s cheese. It was so-so; a combination of good flavours that were less than the sum of their parts. The beetroot was a little underwhelming; it bled purple juice on the plate and needed more flavour. The mousse was light and the walnuts pleasant, though overall the dish was a little dull and lacked imagination or flair.
My main was better; a chicken kiev with fries and green salad. The fries were skinny fellas, the equivalent of catwalk models who’d spent too long on the lettuce. Crisp, golden brown and served in abundance, they swam in the garlicky butter than oozed from the kiev.
The kiev was curious. Served in a golden bread crumb and cooked expertly, so that the crumb was crisp while the chicken remained moist and tender, it had been pre-cut before it reached the table. I felt like a guest at a Christmas dinner party who’d had his cracker pulled before he’d sat down.
The joy of a Kiev is the undamming of the inner butter lake – though that joy was denied me. Damn the pre-slit Kiev and its uncontrollable leakage.
Dessert was beyond me. There’d been too many carbs and too many calories in my main to make that an option. And so I paid a decidedly modest bill and ventured into the night, replete from decent food and happy service.
In the years since its opening, Number Four has punched above its weight and delivered good food, decent service and an affordable independent dining option for those who want something better than the food on offer at the town’s many national chains.
A decent team create a warm and friendly atmosphere, pleasant interior design giving it a soupcon of cool while the chefs are a diligent bunch who make the best of their skills and the produce at hand. Some aspects may underwhelm, but Number Four doesn’t have ideas above its station.
It doesn’t pretend to offer gourmet thrills – instead, it’s a simple, no frills, honest-to-goodness bistro offering friendly family eating at a price that people can afford. It’s good at what it does and will doubtless continue to prosper for years to come.