Rachel and Andrew Birch to take over The Checkers in Montgomery

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Chefs Andrew and Rachel Birch have taken on The Checkers in Montgomery, Wales, with plans to reopen the restaurant with rooms in March 2022.

Having left his head chef position at Savoy Grill in December following the hotel executive chef Matt Worswick’s departure, Andrew has spent the past month and a half finalising details to take over the site.

Located in the Welsh county of Powys, a mile West of the English border, The Checkers is a 17th century coaching Inn, which was restaurant owned by Stéphane Borie and Sarah and Kathryn Francis from 2010, and held a Michelin star from 2011 until the they decided to return the accolade and the sisters relaunched it as a cafe in 2017, Checkers Pantry.

It was then put on the market for sale, where it has remained due to the pandemic.

In an interview with The Staff Canteen, the chef explained that he and his wife had had their eye on the restaurant for as long as it has been up for sale, having spotted it when doing some research for his Great British Menu meal back in 2016.

“We pulled into the square, came across Checkers and fell in love with it straight away,” he said. 

The couple, who met at The Montagu Arms, and have since worked together at Fishmore Hall and Ellenborough Park, both bring a wealth of experience to the project. 

Andrew was a senior sous-chef at The Montagu Arms when it won a star, and as well as retaining 3 AA Rosettes at at Fishmore Hall, he earned three AA-Rosettes at Lainston House and at Ellenborough Park. Rachel, meanwhile, was the head of pastry at Galvin at Windows when André Garrett was at the helm and worked at Limewood in the New Forest with Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder. 

After two years of temporary roles, the chef and his wife are ready to get their teeth stuck into the project.

'We want to serve the locals, not alienate them'

"It's always been our ambition to have a restaurant ever since we've been together,” and all the better for being in Wales.

“I left when I was eighteen, nineteen, so it's like moving back to my home country after more than twenty years, so that's very exciting as well." 

Whilst they have already identified a number of suppliers on both sides of the border and know that they are aiming for the high-end, destination diners' market, they are intent that the food at Chequers will reflect guests’ demands.

As well as being a restaurants that people travel to, "I want to be a neighbourhood restaurant,” Andrew explained.”Montgomery is a lovely small town with a small population of about 1,100 people, We want to serve the locals, not alienate them."

Having bought the restaurant off their own back, making a deliberate decision not to secure external backers, the pair are very much intending on playing things by ear to ensure the business is financially sound.

"We need to see what works, and that might be the plan for six months and if it means that we need to move a few things around and open an extra dinner or close an extra lunch, that's what we'll end up doing."

'I've got to the point where I want to achieve these accolades for myself'

With Tom Baker, who Andrew worked with at Fishmore Hall, Lainston House and Ellenborough Park already on board to share the kitchen with him, and Rachel set to work both in the kitchen and the front of house, the vision for The Checkers is clear in their mind, though they know that it will take time to mould it into what it needs to be to best serve the local community.

Were they to open a tasting menu only restaurant from the get-go, he said, “it wouldn't work. I don't cook for an ego, I cook because I enjoy cooking and I enjoy feeding people, so it's very important that we are feeding people what they want to eat,” and for him, that starts with the best produce he can track down.

“I am a huge supporter of local,” he said, “but I'm more of a supporter of quality ingredients. We are literally on the border. With where we are, we can use things from Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, but I'm not scared to use amazing langoustines from Scotland or line-caught fish from Cornwall and Devon, we're going to be doing that.”

Despite some nerves around getting stuck into the front of house - a territory neither chefs are very familiar with, having both spent the vast majority of their working lives in kitchens - The Checkers is the accomplishment of a lifelong dream for both of them. 

"My wife and I have worked very hard in the industry and we've both worked for some amazing chefs, at amazing hotels and restaurants,” Andrew said.

Having earned and retained their fair share of awards for their former employers, he said, "I've got to the point where I want to achieve these accolades for myself." 

“We're very, very focused on quality produce. We believe that if we do that, accolades will follow. 

"We've worked very hard for other people - we've been well looked after for it and we've been well paid for it - but now we want to do it for ourselves and for our family."

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 17th January 2022

Rachel and Andrew Birch to take over The Checkers in Montgomery