Chapter One Restaurant
I had heard nothing but great things about Chapter One in Locksbottom. Creative (and delicious) dishes paired with a casual but upscale atmosphere; sounds like my kind of place, but I must admit I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. I was expecting what I always do from a ‘nice’ restaurant: good food, good service, and some fancy furniture. Yes, Chapter One has all those things – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I can say, hand on heart, that Chapter One was nothing short of dining perfection.
During my own personal culinary adventures in Kent, I’ve found that most ‘nice’ restaurants have a flaw or two. Perhaps the waiter hovers a bit too much, or the poached egg is a little overcooked. Sometimes there’s too much time (way too much time) between courses, or they’ve run out of something I particularly fancy.
Whatever the flaw, I’ve found there’s always at least a few things that could be improved upon. Up until the end of 2012, I had yet to find a restaurant in Kent that I couldn’t find any faults with.
That’s until I visited Chapter One.
I’m a picky person. Some of my friends tell me I’m almost a psychotic perfectionist. I’m the person that always finds something wrong with everything. It’s not a trait I’m particularly proud of, but I can’t help it. Well, I guess I could help it, but perfectionism isn’t a bad thing, is it? At least it means the end result is as good as it possibly could be.
Obviously, Chapter One’s executive chef, Andrew McLeish, has this same mantra. The only difference between Andrew and me is he seems to achieve perfection effortlessly (and probably without the psychotic bit). I’m sure Chapter One’s Michelin star and four AA Rosettes didn’t come without effort, but they have somehow achieved the perfect balance of exclusive-without-being-stuffy service and blow-your-socks-off food without breaking a sweat.
Andrew has been with Chapter One for over 12 years, and his culinary experience spans over 20 years, so it’s no wonder the restaurant seems to run like clockwork. I hope after working at my profession for over 30 years, I might lose some of my crazy perfectionist tendencies and be more like Andrew – churning out perfection with grace and consistency.
After enjoying a lovely glass of bubbly upon arrival, Chapter One’s manager showed us to our table. Expecting to feel that slightly uncomfortable ‘this restaurant is too fancy for me and it’s too quiet in here’ feeling, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a nice hum of chatter from nearby diners, including some boisterous laughter (which is something that might not be appropriate at other ‘nice’ restaurants).
I also noticed the diners weren’t overdressed – some men even abandoning their trousers and ties for smart jeans and jumpers. This all added to the atmosphere which made me feel like I wasn’t out of place – that I, and anyone else, would be more than welcome to enjoy what Chapter One has to offer.
Having learned a few interesting things about chef Andrew before visiting Chapter One – including the fact that he shoots all of the game served at the restaurant – I was looking forward to perusing the menu. One of the dishes on offer that evening using fresh game was a starter of fricassée of wild rabbit with roast gnocchi, pancetta, brochette of loin and butternut squash.
I’ve never been particularly impressed with rabbit, so instead of opting for the game, I chose the risotto of butternut and chorizo with parmesan and crème fraîche. When describing food, adjectives such as ‘delicious’, ‘tender’, ‘delectable’ and ‘mouth-watering’ are often used, but for this dish, I couldn’t possibly do it justice with these simple phrases. It was so good, I could have licked the bowl. So good, my guests (who all stole a taste) joked about having it for their main course. And dessert.
The other starters served – velouté of pea with a ham hock raviolo; treacle cured Loch Duart salmon with leeks, beetroot, coriander and lemon mayonnaise; and smoked haddock kedgeree with local squid, red vein sorrel and curry mayonnaise – were equally as extraordinary.
Our first course, though faultless, wasn’t the only thing to note at the beginning of our Chapter One experience. I’ve never experienced such well-executed attention from restaurant staff. Someone was always there when needed, but nowhere in sight when we wanted privacy.
It’s like the staff could read our minds, and knew exactly when their presence was welcomed, and when it wasn’t. They were there, but invisible. They popped by to deliver valuable meal and wine recommendations, and disappeared quickly without notice. They brought unexpected pre-starters and pre-desserts for our tasting pleasure, and left us to enjoy.
First impressions clearly made, we eagerly anticipated the arrival of our main courses. Without a doubt, the star of the show was my guest’s Josper grilled USDA prime rib-eye steak with twice cooked chips and béarnaise sauce. As the whole evening had been flawless so far, we were half expecting the steak to be slightly overcooked, tough or flavourless. But, we were wrong; Chapter One wowed us with perfection yet again.
My Gloucester old spot pork was melt-in-my-mouth good, and the accompanying garlic potato purée with truffle butter was something I would pay good money to learn how to make. Why can’t my mash taste even remotely as good?
By this point, though our expectations had been surpassed at every turn, we were waiting for at least one little flaw to rear its ugly head. Would dessert be the doom of our perfect gastronomic experience?
One of my dining companions is a chocolate fondant connoisseur, having sampled this divine confection at many different restaurants across Kent. If it’s on the dessert menu, she orders it, regardless of the other temptations on offer. Some of the fondants have been bad, most have been good, but the majority have been lacking that je ne sais quoi.
Seeing the hot valrhona chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream on the dessert menu, there was no question as to what she would order. Expecting the same ol’ satisfying-yet-lacking-something dessert, she found herself speechless when the fondant proved to be the best she’s ever had.
My organic lemon tart with apricot and yoghurt sorbet and a crispy almond bricelet was gorgeous, as was the iced peanut parfait with golden lime sorbet and black cherry pearls.
Amazingly, we couldn’t find a single fault in Chapter One’s food or service, and after our post-dinner chocolates and coffee, and a brief chat with chef Andrew himself, we not only found no faults, we all left agreeing that Chapter One is – in our humble opinions – the best restaurant in Kent.
My fondant-loving friend even remarked if she could have one last meal, it would be the risotto, rib-eye and chocolate fondant from Chapter One.
by Donna Martin