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Restaurant review: Chapter One, Locksbottom

PUBLISHED: 14:45 15 January 2018 | UPDATED: 14:45 15 January 2018

A happy chef makes for a happy food and the dishes are positively beaming at Kent Life’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year Chapter One, now owned by its chef-patron Andy McLeish

When you go for dinner at the Kent Life Restaurant of the Year, you know you’re in for a treat. And Chapter One certainly lived up to its reader nominations and judge’s decision that saw it receive the top accolade at our recent Food & Drink Awards when My Glamorous Friend and I ate there on a blustery winter’s evening.

The award was particularly pleasing for chef-patron Andy McLeish as it came shortly after he two business partners announced that they had bought Chapter One in Locksbottom from financier Ken Sanker.

The deal sees Andy back in the kitchen full time and it’s certainly put a spring in his step being able to concentrate solely on the core business he now owns. Andy’s business partner and long-time friend Marcel Faulstich, who has a background in banking, now runs the business, with Ekrem Hassan as a silent partner.

With his ambition and zest for cooking firmly back, the chef of 17 years standing is back in the kitchen seven days a week – just like the old days – and loving it.

He and Marcel have both noticed a new energy among the team, all of whom remain on board, including head chef Dean Ferguson, who himself has notched up 16 years service; he joined Chapter One as a commis chef back in 2001 and worked his way up through the ranks.

His boss joined Chapter One a year before him as Executive Chef, having begun his career working with Nico Ladenis at Chez Nico and honing his management and private function skills at The Ritz. Prior to being headhunted for Chapter One, Andy was Head Chef of the Dining Room at The Landmark in London.

Andy’s future plans include making the brasserie side of the business more prominent, with a possible extension to the side of the restaurant in the offing. He and Dean are also discussing changing the menu much more frequently in a bid to tempt guests back with more variety and quality.

But back to the present day and MGF and I start our evening sampling delicious cocktails in the elegant, intimate bar before being shown to our corner table with a great view of the smart, contemporary restaurant.

With a multi-cultural staff you sometimes have to listen pretty carefully to what you’re being told in terms of descriptions of dishes, but service is uniformly impeccable and I felt there was a refreshing new note of friendliness and humour that had possibly been lacking on previous visits.

We opted for the à la carte rather than the tasting menu, but were secretly thrilled when we were brought out generous tastings of dishes to try that we hadn’t selected.

I actually preferred the brilliant treacle-cured salmon with its kick of coriander and ginger to my starter of baked beetroot with goat’s curd salad; great textures, but the cheese was simply not strong enough to stand up to the tangy beet – nor was the accompanying Sauvignon Blanc from Central Valley, Chile.

MGF’s starter prompted ‘the most often-asked question in the restaurant’, laughed our waiter: well, would you know what potimarron was without Googling it (as we did)?

Better known as ‘onion squash’ in the UK, it turns out that red kuri squash makes the most delicious, buttery rich velouté simply bursting with flavour, enhanced by the simplicity of a single, perfect tortellino of more squash, feta and basil floating on top. There’s even a picture of said squash on the wall – and any restaurant that frames red-hued vegetables is a winner in my eyes.

A quick mention for the bread selection; we had vowed to abstain but the salty lure of butter bread with a hint of Basil and mint and the lightest foccaccia easily undid our resolve.

For our mains, MGF’s roast sea trout was sublime, the crispy skin contrasting with the firm white flesh and the whole dish enhanced by a flavour-packed parsnip purée, samphire and yellow chanterelle sauce. Potato gnocchi and our shared side dish of vivid French beans was all that was needed to complete this triumph.

For old time’s sake, I had to have the roast haunch of Chart Farm venison (I once attended one of Andy’s Masterclasses on how to dissect a haunch of said meat) and the quality was superb – my knife just glided through each slice.

The accompanying carrot and cumin purée was a new one on me and a tiny bit odd to my tastebuds, but I loved the roasted carrots and hazlenut and venison jus and the 2016 Argentinian Malbec worked very well indeed with the whole dish.

For dessert, MGF enjoyed the combination of a dash of cinnamon ice cream with her baked pumpkin tart, rich in depth and flavour; the jury was out, however, on whether the honey roasted seeded granola was quite a necessary addition.

But who could fault a plate of two exquisite chocolate and coffee macaroons with almond ice cream? Certainly not me; I could have licked the plate clean. Delicious with an organic late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc.

Coffee and late-night chats in the bar with Marcel and Dean ended a perfect evening of great food, great company and a great future ahead for Andy and his team.

The essentials

Where: Chapter One Restaurant, Locksbottom BR6 8NF

01689 854 848, www.chapteronerestaurant.co.uk

What: Modern European cooking in a contemporary setting

When: Lunch Mon-Sat 12pm-2.30pm, Sun 12pm-3pm

Dinner Mon-Thu 6.30pm-10.30pm, Fri & Sat 6.30pm-11.30pm, Sun 6.30pm-9pm

How much: two courses à la carte menu £34.95 (except on Fri & Sat), three courses £39.95; tasting menu £55 per person

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