It’s been around four or five years since I last ate in Chapter One and then it was to avail of their excellent pre-theatre deal which is still running even though many in their place would be tempted to get rid of it upon gaining a Michelin star. The food was excellent on that occasion and I didn’t expect to be disappointed on my return to try the tasting menu with matching wine.
My wife and I arrived a slightly early and while we waited in the bar for our table to be prepared we ordered a Bellini and a glass of champagne (Laurent Perrier, NV) respectively and were greeted by the ebullient maitre d’ whose patter was a little formulaic but nonetheless quite charming.
We were shown to our seats a few minutes later and noticed the dining room was impressively busy for a Wednesday night. The opening course came out very quickly, too quickly, in fact, as we hadn’t finished our aperitifs meaning we ended up with four full glasses on the table. It’s not the kind of mistake you expect when dining in a restaurant of this calibre but it was the only one of the night so that was fine.
The dish itself was my favourite of the night, a jelly made from concentrated tomato consommé with home dried tomatoes, crème fraiche, coriander and compressed onion brioche. It sounds simple but the flavour was so intense it almost tasted meaty, presumably because of the high levels of glutamate in the dried tomatoes. The paired wine was a wonderfully fresh Italian white from Lugana called Ca dei Frati (2008).
This was followed by home cured Clare Island organic salmon, smoked pear puree and compressed apple with a citrus sauce. The puree was outstanding, very unusual (I don’t think I’ve ever eaten smoked fruit before) and elevated what otherwise could have been a quite a boring plate of food. To accompany was a glass of Wagner Stemple (2010) made from Silvaner , a varietal much maligned due to its use in horrible and cheap Liebfraumlich in the 1970s but which, as was the case here, in the right hands can often be reminiscent of a good Riesling.
Next up was a terrine of foie gras, madeira and duck jelly, icewine verjus, turf smoked duck, apple and watercress salad. The terrine was done well although I’ve had better in other restaurants including non-Michelin ones but the duck (again cured in-house) was excellent even if it did slightly overpower the foie gras. As is customary, we were given a sweet wine, Chateau Laville, Sauternes (2007), which worked perfectly with all the rich ingredients.
The fish course was cod poached in butter at 60°C with white chasselas grape and smoked bacon, cevenne onion and clams. This was the most disappointing dish for me, personally I think the cooking temperature was about 5°C too high making the cod a bit stringy and the onion was so heavily caramelised its flavour took over and masked the other ingredients. Our last white of the night was the Chateau Dereszla (2009) from Hungary and was made from Tokaji, a grape more often seen in dessert wines than dry ones; it had and lots of acidity and minerality to help cut through the buttery cod.
Our mains were much better and one of the highlights of the meal: venison loin, chocolate sauce, Brussels sprouts, celeriac, cep and potato gratin, chestnuts and black pudding; the sprouts had been caramelised using sugar to help take the edge off their bitterness and the pudding had been enriched with foie gras and butter before being reshaped and really helped tie together all the other ingredients. Accompanying this was the excellent Rolf Binder, ‘Hales’ Shiraz (2008) which was nice and big with lots of fruit to help it stand up to the intense richness on the plate.
For dessert we had a soufflé made with Valrhona Guajana 70% dark chocolate and caramel ice cream and it was amazing, so light and airy that it just dissolved in your mouth in an instant. The wine pairing was also the most interesting of them all: Domaiane du Mas Blanc, Banyuls (2007) is similar to port, i.e., fortified, but sweeter and it tasted completely different when drank on its own compared to when combined with the food. Given how problematic chocolate can be for the sommelier this worked fantastically well.
Although I would expect no less, service was, one minor glitch aside, exemplary and one of the waiters and I even had a five minute conversation at the end of the meal about the football that night! There were also two occasions where the maitre d’ had the whole room singing happy birthday for separate tables which I’ve never experienced before at what can sometimes be a very stuffy level of dining.
If I were to find fault I suppose it would be that the menu is very safe, there are lots of fine dining staples and the heavy dishes steeped in French classicism could be considered out of step with what’s happening at the moment especially in the likes of Noma but then again when the food is executed as well as it is why change the formula?
The total bill came to €302 including a ten per cent tip.