"It's not much but it's ours"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Here in the suburbs where it's hard to tell
If I got the bear or if the bear got me

Funny things, Michelin stars. I’m guessing here but I think the majority of the British public who eat out couldn’t give a toss about them or may even have never heard of them. They’re nice for the restaurant as Michelin is one of the industry standards although I think bums on seats may be more important – the two aren’t always linked.

Anyway, I was thinking about matters Michelin after a visit to Anthony’s in Leeds where I had a splendid meal (one of many) that would knock the majority of London starred outfits into a cocked hat. For some very odd reason they haven’t got one, but are still seen as the place to go to in Leeds if you want a top meal. Similarly, the place I visited a few weekends ago with my gastronaut chums Sam and Scott (you remember: more Michelin *** than you can shake a stick at), Chapter One in Locksbottom in Kent lost a star and didn’t get it back which again was odd given the great food coming out of the kitchen there.

It’s an interesting place is Chapter One – not really what I expected at all. For a start it’s big, really big. But on the Saturday lunchtime we were there every table in the airy dining room was taken and some were even turned. Not ours, we were there for the duration (obviously). The menu’s pretty big as well but I was told the kitchen is more akin in size to a large hotel.

I was expecting the usual three course al la carte but the kitchen sent out a couple of extras: a little cup of Petit Marron Veloute – rich, warming and well seasoned - and a small risotto, which came after the first course. Small, but packing a powerful punch (like an ex who I teased mercilessly while tipsy…to my painful regret) it was chock full of unchewy squid, mussels and other good stuff.

My plan was for a light meal: a little salad to start maybe, some lightly steamed fish to follow and a fresh fruit plate to finish but my dining companions twisted my arm and it all turned out very different. I’m glad they did.

When I received my first course proper, Jugged Hare with Truffled Potato Espuma, I thought there’d been a mistake. I had what looked like a glass full of potato espuma (like a foam but a bit more dense) and some little loins of deliciously gamey Hare Loin threaded onto skewers. Breaking through the lightly truffled foam revealed a beautifully rich and deep flavoured hare stew. Jugged Hare is definitely one dish that needs reviving in restaurants and this presentation was witty yet still very satisfying. Great stuff.

Luckily, the hare dish was served in a portion size that allowed me to go a bit overboard for my main course which was (deep breath), Roast Fillet of Angus Beef Foie Gras, Cepes Puree, Ragout of Leeks, Salsify and Cepes with Bordelaise Sauce. With a good fist of beefy meat, a large lump of seared liver, a rich sauce and even a contribution to my five a day (that’ll be the ceps and salsify, then) this was a case of minimalism be damned or kicking it (sorry) old school.

As a complete contrast to my beef I tried a bit of Sam’s Poached and Roasted Chicken which showed that the kitchen also had a light touch when needed. Accurately cooked Poulet Anglaise Chicken was cleverly paired with a Pearl Barley risotto in a light consommé.

After that little lot I would have been forgiven for forgoing pud in favour of a cleansing cup of Verbena tea and prescription strength Zantac but my buddies wouldn’t hear of it and egged me onwards and upwards to the Assiette of Desserts, a small portion of all the sweets on the menu. I’m so glad I have friends who have best interests at heart. This was as good as desserts get and reminded me of a similar dish at the late High Holborn restaurant. What was impressive was that wasn’t a duff component in the whole assembly. Everything had just been cooked or had been allowed time to reach ambient temperature. Standouts for me were the Hot Chocolate Fondant which actually had molten hot chocolate within, a zingy Lemon Tart and a well-judged Cheese Cake.

As I said before given the quality of everything we tried, the ungreedy prices, the service and just the general setup of the place I’m very surprised a star wasn’t regained but this doesn’t seem to worry the local folk who obviously love this place and who are, perhaps inadvertently (but I like to think not), giving British Michelin inspectors a great big V sign.

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