It was when Andy Thompson and Zak Jones worked together at London's L'Escargot five years ago - Thompson as executive chef and Jones as general manager - that they decided it was time to open their own restaurant. Two years later, having looked at hundreds of sites, they finally launched the Clerkenwell Dining Room on St John Street on the edge of the City of London.
The extraordinary level of success they have enjoyed at this eaterie over the past three years, with packed houses at lunch and dinner, inspired them to start looking for a second site in January. Again they took their time, viewing numerous premises, before finally settling on a small building at the heart of London's legal district, just off Chancery Lane. Simply named the Chancery, the 45-seat outlet subsequently opened in August.
A summer launch meant things got off to a slow start at the restaurant but, with all the judges, barristers, solicitors and legal clerks now back from their holidays, covers are running at a healthy 45 at lunch and 35 at dinner.
Thompson, whose early career included spells working with Marco Pierre White at Harvey's and Philip Howard at the Square, says that his menu for these diners has to be a finely balanced affair - far more than he realised before opening.
"We've got a lot of regulars already, which is great, but we hadn't really anticipated so many people coming in as often as once or twice a week," he says. "That's quite demanding of the menu, and we're having to change two or three dishes every couple of weeks, to ensure people can always choose something new when they come in."
He adds: "The menu has to constantly evolve, rather than me changing it four times a year, but I think that's a good thing as it allows us to use the best market produce at any time."
Thompson must also consider the speed at which the kitchen - manned by him plus four other chefs - is capable of putting out dishes, as time is so critical for his diners.
"People in this part of London don't take three-hour lunches any more," he says. "I need to offer a menu that allows us to get the food out of the kitchen quickly. We don't want to rush people, of course, but we do have to meet their time constraints. That means half the starters I offer are cold and half hot, so we're not spending too long over them."
A further consideration when designing the menu, Thompson continues, is that he is largely cooking for a mature, professional audience with a respect for tradition, so he must constantly draw on classical references rather than do anything too modern.
Hence, among the eight main courses currently on offer are skate wing with caramelised cauliflower, caper and raisin butter (£14), grilled fillet of beef, braised short rib, sweet potato purâe (£16.50) and braised pork cheeks, sauerkraut and crisp lardons, mustard and tarragon (£15).
The well-sourced cheeseboard and five desserts also reveal a nod to tradition, as in warm blueberry financier, lemon sorbet (£6), tarte fine of pears, caramel ice-cream (£6), and rhubarb and summer berry trifle tart, thick Jersey cream (£6).
The accomplishment of all these dishes, complete with top-notch service and the Chancery's keen pricing, has already led to the restaurant's first accolade - the BMW Square Meal Award for Best New Restaurant, Autumn 2004 - from London restaurant guide Square Meal.
The Chancery, 9 Cursitor Street, London EC4A 1LL. Tel: 020 7831 4000
What's on the menu - Crisp courgette blossom, buffalo mozzarella Piedmontese, £7.50
- Caramelised ricotta cannelloni, confit tomatoes and basil, £7.50
- Barbecued quail and pork, sweet corn and smoked chilli salad, £8.50
- Smoked haddock, baked new potatoes, crab and creamed leeks, £14
- Sauté of guinea fowl and black pudding, onion and thyme tart, £14.50
- Roast squab pigeon, smoked pancetta, wild mushrooms and thyme, £19.50
- Hot chocolate fondant, cappuccino ice-cream, £6.75
- Vanilla créme br-lâe, cassis sorbet, £6
- British and French farmhouse cheeses, toasted hazelnut and raisin bread, £7.50