Restaurant review: Chapter One
PUBLISHED: 08:35 28 December 2014 | UPDATED: 08:35 28 December 2014
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
Winner of Kent Life and Kent on Sunday's Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year categories in the 2014 Food & Drink Awards, chef-owner Andy McLeish demonstrates why Chapter One won the double victory
Chapter One may not lie at the end of a sweeping drive or even nestle in a cute Kentish village, but this stylish, contemporary, restaurant rises above its position on a roundabout-laden stretch of the busy A21 with magnificent insouciance.
And it may have inexplicably just lost its Michelin star but hey, proudly displayed on its wall of fame are not one but two trophies from the Kent Life and Kent on Sunday’s 2014 Food & Drink Awards, where Chapter One scooped not only Restaurant of the Year but also Chef of the Year for its Executive Head Chef, Andrew McLeish.
So who needs stars when you’ve got a couple of our splendid plates on the wall? That was my excuse anyway for being back at one of my favourite places to eat in Kent, ready to test the opinion of our readers and the two category judges, who independently both picked Locksbottom’s finest - from an extremely strong field indeed.
Relaxing in the bar over a raspberry Bellini with dishes of fat green olives and nuts to nibble, I could feel the week’s tensions starting to melt away.
And the signs were good as we were led to our corner table: “Full marks for crisp white tablecloths,” noted My Tall Friend with approval. “And good cutlery, too – plain and simple, but stylish.”
A first-timer here, he also admired the decor: accent walls in warm, deep red hung with rather fab big framed pictures of vegetables, nicely enhanced by uplighters.
It was a Friday night and busy but there is excellent spacing between tables and staff were at their best, gliding around the large, low-ceilinged restaurant with effortless ease and, as ever, eyes in the back of their heads; they miss nothing.
And they are confident enough to challenge their customers when needed: “That’s very boring of you, Sarah!” retorted general manager Philip Urasala when I said we’d both have the seven-course Tasting Menu, demonstrating in one witty put down the mix of professional, cheeky, relaxed and assured style that characterises the service here. He was absolutely right, of course. We returned to the task, while tucking into delicious walnut and fennel seed bread, and came up with a much broader set of new dishes to try out.
I was delighted not to have missed out on my exquisite quail kiev starter, which consisted of the tiniest, perfectly roasted quail legs served with herb mayonnaise, dandelion leaf and a touch of Gruyère.
My recommended Chablis 2012, Domaine des Iles was a perfect accompaniment while glass of Viognier from Central Valley, Chile cut through the richness of MTF’s pressed terrine of rabbit and foie gras, where the melting meatiness was enhanced by chestnut foam, truffle mayonnaise and crunchy pea cress.
One accompaniment had us almost fighting over who got it – the most buttery, floatingly light brioche meant of course as a classic accompaniment to the terrine but far too yummy not to be shared, as I insisted.
Both dishes emphasised Andy Mcleish’s particular cooking style that manages to combine an honest earthiness with utterly exquisite presentation skills and attention to detail – plus flavour. Oodles of it.
For this is a chef who genuinely cares about provenance and is passionate about using as much produce as possible from the surrounding area of Kent; a true field-to-fork champion. Andy is also a chef who loves to hunt and shoot and it would be rude not to have tasted the sika venison from nearby Chart Farm he’d bagged.
After insisting MTF hear my oft-repeated tale of the day I attended one of Andy’s masterclasses and learnt how to chop up a haunch of roe buck, I let him enjoy his first taste of this wonderfully flavoured meat.
Two generous, juicy portions, sliced at an angle and intersected with an elegant oblong of shallot tart topped with cumin-roasted carrot had a spectacularly green reduction of curly kale on the side and a really lovely venison jus – which a South Australian Shiraz handled magnificently.
I opted for the fish dish of the day, which was the meatiest salmon (‘this is beyond mere fish’ I’ve noted, a tad cryptically), pan fried and served atop a Parmesan-laced risotto stuffed with cockles and chorizo.
As I write this ranks in my top three favourite mains of all time: big and bold, definitely not for the faint-hearted, simply bursting with flavour and sea freshness. Only a red could do it justice and my Argentinian Pinot Noir was perfect.
Despite being told “that’s a real girl’s dessert!” I could not resist the lure of peanut and chocolate tart, which sounds ridiculously sweet but not when you factor in a generous helping of salted caramel ice cream and the lightest of banana sorbets, and of course the whole artful way in which the dish is presented.
MTF’s tart tatin of Pink Lady apples was meant for two and after all I had my own pudding, but OK, I admit I had a taste or three. Wonderfully light puff pastry, the apple still with a real bite, vanilla ice cream and crème fraiche perfect companions.
Our choice of dessert dictated our choice of dessert wine, so I sipped a Sauternes while MTF toyed with a Hungarian Tokaji, both replete and utterly content.
Coffee with Andy M in the bar followed, plus a light-hearted ticking off from me about him not smiling enough at the awards evening (“too shocked,” he said), then lots of chat about the future.
“It really isn’t about the stars, it’s about being a great team, always striving to do the best we can and using as much local produce as well as we can throughout the menu,” said Andy. “We are all genuinely very proud indeed of our Kent Life and Kent on Sunday awards.”
Couldn’t put it better myself. And did I mention it’s surprisingly good value too? Go on, treat the family to a slap-up New Year’s Day feast and start 2015 in style. n