Chancery was opened in 2004 by Andrew Thompson and Zak Jones, who originally opened The Clerkenwell (which is now under new ownership and called North Road). The chef is Stephen Engelfield, who was head chef at The Clerkenwell.
The Chancery is tucked away in a quiet side street off Chancery Lane. The room has conventional décor, with wooden floors, white walls and ceiling and a few mirrors to try and give an illusion of space. This is sensible, since the dining room is actually quite small and tables are both closely packed and smaller than ideal. Lighting is murky, with ceiling spots that were not particularly well directed, making the menu quite hard to read at our table.
The menu had an appealing selection of British and French dishes, with three courses priced at £34.50. The two page wine list had choices such as Constantia Steenberg Merlot 2007 at £32 for a wine that costs around £9 to buy, Volnay Les Blanches Perrin 2006 at £50 compared to a retail price of around £17, up to Chateau Beau-Sejour Becot, Saint-Emilion 1998 at £95 for a wine that will set you back around £38 in the shops. Bread, a choice of white and brown slices, was served warm but was pretty clearly reheated and although adequate tasted not entirely fresh – bread was bought in from a company called “The French Bakery”; this is an area that could be improved (3/10).
Tuna carpaccio was served with a central pile of celeriac remoulade and horseradish sauce. The celriac was fine and the horseradish added a nice bite; my main issue was that the tuna was sliced ultra-thin, so rather lost its taste in this process (a good 4/10). Butternut squash soup with sage beignet was an interesting dish. A lot of effort had gone into the butternut squash soup in order to get quite as much flavour as was apparent here: seasoning was spot on and the soup was not too sweet. In itself the soup would have been entirely acceptable at a Michelin starred restaurant, but was served with an utterly soggy sage beignet that should never have left the kitchen (4/10, but the soup itself was excellent and better than this).
Fillet of beef was cooked longer than I had requested but had good taste, served with compote of onions, a bed of spinach, carrots and mash, sautéed wild mushrooms along with a red wine jus. The spinach was well cooked, as were the carrots and mushrooms, and the mash, while a fraction grainy in texture, was pleasant – it would have been too salty for some, but not for me. This was a well designed dish, and the star element for me was the excellent jus, which had intense flavour (5/10).
Sea bass was cooked well, with crisp skin and moist flesh, with a white wine emulsion and a risotto of broad beans and peas. As it was November, I was unconvinced by the idea of out of season pea and bread bean risotto, while the sea bass lacked the flavour of a wild fish, but seasoning was accurate and the dish was perfectly pleasant (4/10).
For dessert, apple strudel featured filo pastry that appeared to be made from scratch, Calvados custard and vanilla ice cream. The apple was for me a fraction firm in texture, but the pastry was fine and the ice cream and custard well-made. However a lack of attention to detail was apparent in a decorative apple crisp that was well, far from crisp – indeed I could actually fold it without it breaking (3/10 overall). Flourless orange cake was moist, and served with prune and Armagnac compote and caramelised iced orange; the cake was skilfully made (4/10).
Service, led by a manager who used to work at Morgan M in north London, was very good. The bill came to a very fair £63 a head with some good wine. Overall I found this an enjoyable meal: the menu was appealing, the presentation capable and technique generally good, with bold seasoning. There were some slips at the edges e.g. the poor beignet, the imprecise cooking of the beef, the poor apple crisp, but these are all things that can be fixed, and did not detract too much from what overall was a good meal.