Chapter One is situated just off the south circular road, near Farnborough and Bromley. It was previously an old-fashioned Italian restaurant called Fantail, but became Chapter One in 1996. Chef Andrew McCleish has been at the helm since 2003. He previously trained for six years with the iconic chef Nico Ladenis at several of his properties, including the 3 star Michelin restaurant Chez Nico at 90 in Park Lane.
The large premises have their own car park and can seat up to 150 diners at capacity. The low-ceilinged room has a wooden floor and rather unnecessary muzak playing. Tables are fairly tightly packed, but are of a good size and have white linen tablecloths, though the atmosphere feels informal rather than stuffy. A brigade of 17 chefs in total serves the diners. The menu is appealing, priced at a modest £35.50 for three courses for dinner, though there are supplements on a few dishes, and vegetables are extra at £3.10 per dish. At lunch three courses cost £23.95, with a mix of British and French dishes on the menu.
The wine list has around 200 choices, ranging from £16 to £500, with an average price of just £40 a bottle. What is unusual is the wide range of bottles at the cheaper end of the spectrum: 26% of the list is below £30, and 59% of the list is priced below £50 a bottle. Example wines include 2011 Chenin Blanc from Kleine Zalze in South Africa at £19.50 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £7, 2007 Woodhenge Shiraz from Wirra Wirra in Mclaren Vale at £58.00 for a wine that retails at £17, and Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2000 from Domaine Henri Clerc at £180.00 for a wine that will set you back around £78 in the shops. The average mark-up level is around 2.7 times retail price i.e. very fair by restaurant standards. We drank the very pleasant Au Bon Climat Chardonnay at £56.50 for a wine that retails at £16. Mineral water was £3.10 a bottle. Bread is made from scratch in the kitchen and was excellent. Walnut bread, light focaccia with rosemary and potato and garlic bread were all good, while both the brown and the butter bread in particular were terrific (17/20 breads).
Kedgeree is a simple dish, but here had some elaboration through rice balls and little croquettes of deep-fried and tender squid, but the core of the dish, the smoked haddock with a curry mayonnaise, was excellent, garnished with red vein sorrel (16/20). Salad of mackerel and eel had fresh and precisely timed pan-fried mackerel, good smoked eel and a garnish of crispy vegetables; beets gave colour but a clever inclusion were strips of apple to provide some acidity (16/20).
We also tasted a dish of cured salmon with beets and celery, the texture of the salmon being lovely (16/20). For me the dish of the night was jugged hare with truffle espuma, mash and a little piece of hare sate on a skewer, garnished with a slice of black truffle. The hare and the truffle flavoured combined really well, and the dish had great depth of flavour: a rich delight (easily 17/20).
Sea bass was wild, line-caught and cooked carefully, served with roasted trevise (a red leaf related to chicory), cauliflower beignets and mushroom puree, garnished with hazelnuts. All the flavours worked well and seasoning was spot on (16/20). My main course of Iberico pork chop was simple but lovely, having terrific flavour and served on a bed of Savoy cabbage (16/20).
Desserts kept up the high standard. Lemon tart was served millefeuille of passion fruit and crème fraiche sorbet. The tart had good pastry and well balanced filling, and the sorbet had lovely texture. My only criticism was that the millefeuille of passion fruit had rather over-firm brandy snaps, though the passion fruit filling was good (16/20). A deconstructed black forest gateau had particularly rich and moist chocolate cake, with a dark chocolate sorbet with smooth texture and deep bitter chocolate flavour, and griottine cherries (16/20). Coffee was pleasant, and came with a choice of salted caramels of a coffee-flavoured chocolate.
Service was impressive. Topping up was faultless throughout the evening despite a packed dining room, and the restaurant manager on the night (Jatin Parmar) was knowledgeable and friendly. The bill came to £94 a head, with a nice bottle of wine and a glass of dessert wine. This seems to me fair value, and of course you could pay less if you went with a cheap wine, of which this list has plenty. Certainly £35.50 for a three course Michelin starred meal is a relative bargain. This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.