When I was growing up, my parents used to dine out on very special occasions at The Fantail restaurant in Locksbottom, near Farnborough. It was the place to go if you wanted exceptional food, a decent wine list and excellent service this side of the capital during the 1970s and 80s.
Fast forward a few decades to the mid-90s, and The Fantail became Chapter One. In 2000, Andrew McLeish arrived as Head Chef in its kitchen and managed to gain the establishment a Michelin star, only to lose it in 2015.
Two years after that, Andrew and his business partner, Marcel Faulstich, decided to buy the business themselves, determined to put Chapter One back on the map
– not just for its culinary offering,
but also for that glamorous wow factor that was so innate in The Fantail’s heydays.
On arriving there one windswept Wednesday evening recently, any trace of the horribly wet weather we’ve battled through on the A21 to get there immediately trickles away.
Inside, Chapter One is absolutely beautiful, with a décor reminiscent of the decadent 1920s – think glimmering glass, plush leather and velvet banquettes, oversized potted plants, statement geometric floor tiles and a colour scheme of inky navy, rich teal and sea green offset by gilt finishes – all of which is not too unlike a peacock’s fantail.
It sort of feels like you’re stepping into the glamorous setting for an
F Scott Fitzgerald novel.
My dinner guest is my sister, and as we head towards the Art Nouveau-style bar area, where there are plenty of customers sipping cocktails, we are greeted by Marcel, who tells us that the restaurant has recently undergone a thorough refurbishment and that, yes, the peacock references are indeed a nod to its days as The Fantail.
But reminiscing aside, Marcel says that he, Andrew and their team are firmly focused on the future of Chapter One, stating that providing inspiring, impressive and frequently changing menus courtesy of the area’s best quality seasonal ingredients in both its chic and cosy brasserie and fine dining restaurant is a key aim.
My sister and I have opted to put this to the test in the latter, which boasts an à la carte menu at the fixed price of £42.95 for three courses.
One glance at what’s on offer and Chapter One’s gastro vision seems to be on track. A lot of the meat is from nearby Chart Farm in Sevenoaks and drinks are sourced from Westerham Brewery and Chapel Down.
The dishes sound suitably intriguing, too – pan fried gigha halibut served with turnip purée and deep fried courgette flower with goat’s cheese, romesco sauce and hazelnut dressing.
In addition to the main menu, there’s also a specialist game-tasting one at the moment. Priced at £64.95, it boasts tempting gastro delights such as roast breast of grouse served with crispy pancetta and sloe gin sauce.
From the main à la carte menu I choose the smoked haddock kedgeree served with curry mayonnaise, haddock arancini, crispy squid and raisin purée as my starter as I’m intrigued to see how this combination of flavours and textures will work. Thankfully, it’s a perfect partnership that achieves the right balance of silky, smoky fish with crunchy citrusy seafood morsels, further enhanced by the dabs of piquante mayo.
My sister’s choice of Ballotine of Foie Gras and grouse confit served with crumbs of pain d’epice and damson jam is a sweet, soft and rich confection that’s gone all too quickly.
Before the mains are served, our efficient and friendly waiter arrives with an amuse-bouche of mushroom Asian broth. It’s earthy and aromatic and certainly perks up the taste buds thanks to the hits of lemongrass and pungent seafood tortellino.
We order two glasses of 2018 Andeluna 1300 Mendoza Malbec (£8.95) to accompany our next course as we’ve both chosen meat: Pressed and roasted lamb shoulder with roast rump, aubergine, braised baby gem and tahini yoghurt for me, and the roasted roebuck venison haunch with girolles, cavolo nero and venison pithivier – aka pastry – for my sister.
We also order a couple of side dishes – tenderstem broccoli with olive oil and lemon and Pink
Fir potatoes grilled
on the restaurant’s American Josper Grill.
The meat is moist and intensely flavoursome, and if I have one criticism it’s that there’s just a little bit too much oil anointed on the sides. A little less and it would have been outstanding.
Dessert is also included in Chapter One’s prix fixe menu and, although we’re both full to the brim by now, we decide to share a serving of
the passion fruit mille-feuille served with poached Kentish Blackberries and a quenelle
of blackberry sorbet.
Like all our dishes, the presentation is exquisite. The pastry is crisp and light and the blackberries are tangy and a great palate cleanser. Despite saying we were full, we soon find our forks duelling for the final morsel.
During our time dining at Chapter One we’ve been very well looked after and enjoyed some really interesting, tasty food that’s very reasonably priced and generously served.
If the team continue to deliver to this high standard, then it’s fair to say that Chapter One will become a long-term bestseller.