In autumn 2011 Chapters sadly closed. The notes below are of historical interest only.
Chapters is situated in the busy Victoria Street in Douglas, just off the sea front. The premises is spread out over three storeys: in the ground floor is a bistro that is open all day, in the basement is a party room for hire complete with old arcade games, while the main dining room is upstairs. The restaurant opened in late 2009.
A lot of effort has clearly gone into the décor of the dining room, with a mainly black carpet and matching tablecloths, with lime green upholstery and white walls, with curtains to match the theme. Lighting was excellent; I dislike peering into the gloom in restaurants trying to read poorly illuminated menus, but here the tables were properly picked out by directed lighting. The tables are well spaced and the room is quite intimate, with less than 30 covers at capacity.
There was a (nearly) no-choice tasting menu served in the evenings, priced at £41 a head, or £75 with wine pairing. The head chef Marcus Pucell worked in South Africa in various hotels before moving here. The 20 page wine list had quite broad global coverage and includes choices such as Vidal Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from New Zealand at £24 for a wine that costs around £7 retail, Meerlust Rubicon 2005 at £48 compared to a shop price of about £18, up to grander choices such as the excellent Etienne Sauzet Puligny Montrachet 2008 at £59.50 for a wine that will set you back about £28 retail. The wines were served in Riedel glasses, which show a significant level of commitment, though given their fragility I do not envy the washer-up. I had the wine pairings, which were sensible matches to the food.
Bread was made from scratch and was a choice of plain white rolls and black olive and basil rolls. This was adequate but for me lacked salt and did not have great texture (12/20). The tasting menu commenced with smoked salmon and cream cheese inside eggy bread, laced with white truffle honey. This was superior comfort food, rich and enjoyable (15/20).
Next was yellow pepper soup with macadamia nut powder and 25 year old Balsamic vinegar. This was pleasant enough and properly seasoned, but I did not taste much of the advertised balsamic, and the pepper taste could have been more intense (13/20).
Next was a single hand-dived Scottish scallop resting on a base of black pudding, with a ring of deep-fried calamari, and a spoon of champagne jelly on the side. The combination of scallop and black pudding and scallop is common enough, and I liked the idea of the champagne jelly, which provided some acidity and really did taste of champagne; however I thought the calamari was one element too many. The scallop itself was cooked a little longer than I would ideally like, though it was not by any means overcooked, and the black pudding was quite rich (13/20).
Gram flour “chips” were made with cheese inside and with gravy made from stock and red wine on the side. This was decent enough, though for me a little more cheese flavour would have helped, and there is a limit to how exciting gram flour and semolina can be (12/20).
This was followed by a mint and cucumber cream that was surprisingly subdued in its mint taste, and just seemed a superfluous dish to me (11/20). Next was seared loin of tuna and home-made cannelloni of fine beans and olive and anchovy tapenade, with a remoulade of sun-dried tomatoes. The tuna was cooked lightly enough, though I thought that the remoulade was rather too salty; however the beans were cooked well, retaining a little firmness, while the pasta was just a little harder than would have been ideal (13/20).
This was better than the next dish, chicken breast cooked sous-vide and served in a pool of red pepper sauce and garnished with a few blanched leaves of Brussels sprouts. The problem was that the chicken had very little taste, which admittedly is a common enough issue in the UK; however if you are going to serve chicken then it really needs to be of higher quality than this. Personally I could have done with more greenery to balance the quite strong taste of the red pepper sauce, which rather dominated the dish (11/20).
I much preferred Manx beef, roasted at low temperature. This was served with an oyster beignet, confit of shallot and “Okells” gravy (this is the local beer). The beef itself was excellent, though some more sauce would have been nice, and I think something green would have given the dish better balance rather than adding the deep-fried oyster; still 15/20 given the good beef and well made sauce.
I tried a selection of cheeses, the best of which by some margin was a local Manx cheddar. The St Brendan Irish Brie, Cornish Yarg and Tuxford and Tebutty Stilton were pleasant enough cheeses, but suffered from being served too cold (perhaps 13/20 average but the Manx cheddar was very good, the Irish Brie my least favourite).
A spoon of apple and calvados jelly had very little flavour and I also did not think the texture was quite right (10/20), which was odd given the very capable champagne jelly earlier. A foie gras lolly was a playful enough idea, combining Amadei dark chocolate shell with a foie gras mousse inside, but for me was spoilt by the addition of an amarena fabbri cherry; this was unseasonal (this was December, after all) and I found its syrup taste dominated the dish; I think the dish could perhaps work with something other than the cherry (11/20). A deconstructed lemon-infused meringue had little swirls of meringue to the side of a parfait of ricotta, cream fraiche and vanilla cream. For me the dish lacked enough vanilla flavour and indeed lemon (11/20).
Service was excellent throughout, and my Lithuanian waitress in particular was friendly and attentive. Overall this is an ambitious restaurant whose savoury dishes mostly work, at times very well, but would be enhanced by higher quality ingredients in some cases – the contrast between the excellent Manx beef and the tasteless chicken was striking. For me desserts were of a lower standard, but overall this is still a good value meal at £41 for a lengthy tasting menu, and I would happily come back.