“Denise, might it transpire that you could accompany me to a dinner on Friday in the deepest, darkest hinterlands of Kent for a repast of succulent British cooking paired with the ever so delightful English Sparkling wine, Nyetimber. We will be dining at the Michelin starred restaurant, Chapter One, on the outskirts of Bromley.”
Ok, that’s not exactly how my friend Douglas (Intoxicating Prose) worded it but you get the idea. He is so eloquent and he actually does speak like that! I deeply admire someone who can use words like transpire and succulent in everyday speech. He had me at ‘Michelin starred’, but Bromley?!? This I had to see to believe.
Pulling out of London Bridge with a half bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse to sustain us on our train journey to Bromley or therebouts we were off to the wilds of Kent. Chapter One is actually between Bromley and Orpington in a place called Locksbottom Common, anyway you look at it, it’s not London, which is a bit of a shame because it is excellent. They are one of the few restaurants in England that currently hold a Michelin star and we were there to review a spring menu that Executive Head Chef Andrew McLeish had paired with each vintage of the award winning English sparkling wine, Nyetimber.
Finding it was a bit of a chore. Once off the train and onto a local bus we were directed to get off the bus “when it passes the big Sainsbury’s,” which is a fine marker if the big Sainsbury’s was on the main road instead of tucked about 200 metres off the street behind an even bigger building. Luckily, the locals are very friendly to “foreigners” and helpfully shouted to us and the bus driver when we were supposed to disembark. A short walk up the hill, negotiate a very busy 4 lane road and we were there! I’m beginning to see why Londoners don’t venture out.
Happily, we were greeted with big smiles and glasses of Nyetimber Cuvee Classic 2003. The ’03 Classic Cuvee recently won best sparkling wine in the world and it’s easy to see why because it is a delightful, bubbly mouthful. A classic blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, it’s the perfect aperitif. Light, honeyed flavours and a refreshing citrus character were just what we needed after our trek there. We sat in the rather modern, chi-chi looking bar and downed that sucker with spicy peanuts, our appetites were certainly being stimulated.
Chef Andrew then came out to walk us through the menu and we were then lead to our table. Chapter One from the outside looks like it once might have been a Harvester but it’s amazing what you can do once you rip out the booths, paint the walls, add a bit of atmospheric lighting and voila! A deeply inviting dining room with plush carpets and candle lit cosy tables.
Our first course was lightly smoked salmon with a wild fennel salad, poached quail egg and honey mustard dressing, only smoked 12 hours so as to not overpower the delicacy of the salmon. It was soft and silky with hints of smokiness, excellent quality of salmon, almost sashimi like. Paired with the 2001 Blanc de Blanc, it was a real palate cleanser. Nutty notes at first followed by lemony citrus flavours, all washed away by the miniscule bubbles percolating in the glass.
I was enjoying the ’01 but before I knew it, the sommelier, Laurent Gilis was pouring the 1996 Blanc de blanc. In conversation with friends the subject of, “will English wine age?” has come up and I can resoundingly say: YES! At least if it’s Nyetimber it will. A pure hard walnut nose greeted us followed by dried fruits and a palate of hazelnuts, walnuts and dried ginger, the bubbles still very lively, wafting up from the bottom of the glass. The ’96 was paired with local turbot, Galloway oysters and baby spinach in a sauce made with the ’96. What really impressed me about the dish was the oyster and how it seemed to be a distillation of the sea in one bite. A slight soy saltiness was only enhanced by the ’96. Very umami-ish and very yum. I could have just had a dozen of those oysters and been a happy camper.
If that had been the end of dinner, I would have been sated, but no, there was more. Braised belly of Rhug Estate Pork with roast salsify, choux croute and apple puree, matched with the 1995 Classic Cuvee. The ’95 again showing how well Nyetimber ages. Although a classic blend, it is pinot noir dominated and it is apparent in the nose and palate. A prune like, very ripe raspberry character, almost raisin-ish. A definitive prune/dried red fruit dominated wine which paired nicely with the very moist, intense pork belly. The bubbles were faint but still apparent, lollygagging around the bowl of the glass.
We finished off with the very first vintage of Nyetimber, the 1992 Blanc de blanc. Hazelnut mousse immediately sprang to mind when I nosed this one and then slowly lemon candy, creme brulee and toasted brioche found their way out of the glass. Light and fluffy were the words I somehow managed to scribble in the margins of my notebook.The ’92 was only disgorged about a year ago so it might be because of that and despite it’s age, that the bubbles were geriatric wonders – bouncing around the glass like teenagers, excellent balance and acidity – still going strong. Chef had paired this with a rhubarb trifle. The English love rhubarb. I find it needs lots of sugar. The trifle however was a perfect match to the ’92. What first tasted like dirty beetroot had a completely different taste profile when eaten with the ’92. The rhubarb took on a fruity complexion and the dirt became a pleasing earthiness. I described it as if my mouth took a fall down Alice’s rabbit hole, a strange new world opened up for me with that dessert paired with the ’92 blanc de blanc.
When food and wine are matched this well it does make me wonder why it’s not done in every restaurant as standard procedure. Honestly, it makes a meal that much more enjoyable. The most amazing thing about the entire dinner was that Chapter One was offering this menu along with wine matches for only £70 per person. Well worth a trek to the outskirts of London. The restaurant often does special menus so check out their website for more upcoming menus.
Please excuse the pics as Douglas and I were both bad bloggers and forgot our cameras. We had to make do with our Blackberry cameras but you get the gist of the evening!