It’s well documented that I love my barbecue and am constantly on the search for authentic barbecue here. That is to say, something that is equivalent to the giant plates of happiness I’ve had in the US. And so far, I haven’t found it here.
So tonight, in anticipation of a new smokehouse opening in Oxford, Oxford Blue Smokehouse to be precise, I dragged the family over to Witney to visit the Chequers Smokehouse. They’re due to open just off Cowley Road at the old Oxford Blue pub at the start of August. I’d heard a lot about the Chequers, mostly good comments so I was optimistically hopeful.
There’s a trend in Witney at the moment to reinvent its many pubs as restaurants which isn’t a bad thing. The Chequers still has a pubby feel with lots of stripped pine tables and wobbly pine and rattan chairs. Decor was unnoticeable although I was bemused by a large print of what looked like a cremation until my kids pointed out the fish being smoked!
We ordered the Southern Fried Chicken off the kids menu, which came with fries and slaw for £6. I should point out that this is pieces of chicken, rather than boneless pieces. If you have a child like me who runs away screaming at the prospect of a piece of food looking like it was once alive, you may want to order a hot dog instead. Two large pieces of chicken, good hot & fresh fries and an okay slaw. We found the chicken had been fried in old oil which gave it that heavy, greasy flavour. The seasoning was way too salty even for us.
They also had a side of nachos with cheese which were pretty good. Big fluffy triangles smothered in melted cheese.
The Teenager ordered a Big Daddy burger at £14.50 with sweet potato fries upgrade for £1.50. Big Daddy was indeed big, consisting of a normal bread seeded bun with a burger, pickles, tomato and a lettuce. On top of the burger was smoked brisket, pulled pork and bacon. Messy and drippy, it was good to start but then got a bit dry and almost too much meat. The sweet potato fries are the ubiquitous frozen ones that are popping up on every bloody menu.
The sharing platter seemed like too good to miss so we ordered that £37, with a side of onion strings. Possibly a tad too much! The sharing platter consists of *takes a deep breath* burnt ends, full rack of ribs, chicken, pulled pork, Jacobs Ladder, beef brisket, slaw, fries, cornbread and chilli butter sweetcorn!
Fries were good, also a little salty but edible. Onion strings were lovely but again heavy on the sodium. The sweetcorn and the cornbread were good, with a nice chilli kick.
And now onto the meats. The chicken was well favoured with a honey smokey tinge. Ribs were fairly moist and they had a good sauce on top. The meat pulled away without too much tugging. The slices of brisket had a god red colour from the smoker but were a tad dry. Pulled pork – oh we’re so over the pulled pork now. It has to be amazing and this was adequate, nothing to write home about. The Jacobs Ladder was good with a nice moist texture. Burnt ends were pretty good with a lovely caramelisation.
Drinks were £2.10 for soft drinks and the final bill came in at just over £76. So, would I go back or visit the new one in Oxford? Honestly, probably not. It’s really not good enough for me and we think we’ve worked out why there’s such a vast gap between US barbecue and UK. It’s just not as popular over here so it isn’t cooked fresh in massive quantities. That results in the meat drying out and essentially, not as good. I want barbecue that fills me with joy, smokey, tender, messy, sticky happiness. And that ain’t happening.
The Chequers Smokehouse, 47 Corn Street, Witney, OX26 6BT and soon to open Oxford Blue Smokehouse, 32 Marston Street, Oxford OX4 1JU