Kent Life Restaurant of the Year review: Chapter One
- Credit: Archant
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 and Restaurant of the Year again in 2015, chef-owner Andy McLeish shows why he’s still the best.
I have had the pleasure of dining at Chapter One on many occasions, most recently this time last year when it scooped the double in our 2014 Food & Drink Awards (best chef and best restaurant).
Having won the restaurant category again, that gave me the excuse to check out our judge’s commendation of ‘faultless’ (and he’s a man who knows quality when he sees it) – but this time with a twist.
My dining companion’s dad won me in an auction, which is not quite as odd as it sounds. As a proud patron of ellenor (http://ellenor.org/), I was asked to suggest a Kent Life prize for their charity auction at the recent Orange Ball and couldn’t think of anything better to offer than the chance to help me review the restaurant our readers and panel found the ‘best of the best’ in Kent.
A generous father did the bidding then selflessly passed on the chance to his daughter so that we could meet. I was in luck. My partner in crime has just launched a new cake shop in Sevenoaks and was not only excellent company, but she also brought along a selection of some of her favourites for me to try.
Not that I had any chance to do so with Andy’s magnificent cooking ahead and once I’d prised The Cake Queen away from chatting to chef about allergens and gluten-free baking and let him get back to the kitchen, we were escorted to our table.
Stylishly contemporary, soft lighting and a clean décor make the big dining space more intimate, as did the clever way guests were first seated around the edge of the room, but still with ample space between tables for private conversations and the waiting staff to be able to glide back and forth. Which they do beautifully.
The menu is a delight – eight starters, seven mains (a vegetarian menu available on request) and I could have happily chosen any of them.
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But on a chilly Tuesday, the crisp crunch and contrast of textures in my warm salad of winter vegetables proved irresistible to both the eye and palate. I loved the beetroot crisps and chestnuts, while the addition of chargrilled pancetta brought in a lovely saltiness to a really energising start to a memorable meal. Delicious with a glass of fruity Viognier, which had a lovely hint of citrus.
TCQ went for risotto, one of her favourite dishes, and here starring one perfect, fat hand-dived scallop on tarragon-flavoured rice with Parmesan and crème fraîche. Her Chilean Sauvignon Blanc was a crisp, refreshing partner to this elegant dish.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the bread with a baker sitting opposite me – and it was interesting she chose the butter bread and while I gobbled down my brown bread with walnuts, took time to admire the good crust and perfect level of saltiness; she’ll go far, this one.
For our mains, I chose my favourite sika venison from near-neighbour Chart Farm, where Andy loves to hunt and shoot (he is a chef who cares passionately about local provenance, as his seasonal menus demonstrate so well).
Tender, packed with juicy flavour and perfectly accompanied by onion squash, pecan nuts and ratte potato (try them - lovely nutty flavour and smooth, buttery texture), the syrupy, delicious plum jam and venison jus was the hit of the night for me and the only wine that could match it was a big, plumy Argentinian Malbec.
On the other side of the table the roasted hake encircled by baby brown shrimps was being equally enjoyed, the fish described as “meat but soft and not too flaky” and the simple accompaniments of leeks and herby Parmentier potatoes deemed “just right.” TCQ’s recommended wine (do ask for advice, each of our selections was spot on) was an oak-aged Pinot Noir from the same producer as her earlier white wine but on the more robust side to cope with the meatiness of the fish.
For dessert I indulged by love of chocolate with a meltingly gorgeous Valrhona chocolate fondant, while TCQ went for of Dulcey cremeux with banana compoté, a more unusual choice which proved creamy and mousse-like in texture.
Don’t be frightened by this classy restaurant’s fame, service is warm, friendly and knowledgeable, though some explanations of dishes I had to have repeated as this is a team from many parts of the world, and it remains excellent value for food of this standard.
I can’t think of a better start to your New Year than taking lunch or dinner here and brightening up a chilly January day.
Where: Chapter One
Locksbottom BR6 8NF
What: contemporary, smart restaurant, modern European cooking with classical roots
When: Restaurant: Mon-Sat, Lunch 12-2.30pm, Mon-Thu, Dinner, 6.30-10.30pm, Fri & Sat, Dinner, 6.30-11.30pm, Sun Lunch, 12-3pm, Sun Dinner, 6.30-9pm
Brasserie: Mon-Sat, 12-3pm
How much: Tasting menu £55 (with wines add £22); menu du jour £19.95 (three courses); Sunday lunch £22.95