Menuwatch: Chapter Two

17 June 2004
Menuwatch: Chapter Two

Terrible thing, sibling rivalry. Stewing resentment, tempers boiling and tears before bedtime. Not the most creative of influences.

But it doesn't have to be like that. Not if you're the Blackheath restaurant Chapter Two, which happens to have a very level-headed and successful older sister to look up to: Chapter One. Chapter One is, of course, the Locksbottom restaurant in Kent which executive head chef Andrew McLeish has guided to a Michelin star and the accolade of being 2004 AA Restaurant of the Year for England. "We're looking to take Chapter Two up to the next level," says new head chef Trevor Torbin. "Up to Chapter One level." Chapter Two, which opened in 1998, is right to follow the lead, and not just because of the accolades. Big sis has made her name by offering luxury ingredients cooked extremely well, but at sensible prices. Like Chapter One, Chapter Two is a neighbourhood restaurant in an area where the labels on the toddler's trousers suggest a certain comfort of living. But affluence doesn't necessarily want pomp and circumstance: "People don't want to pay high prices," says South African-born Torbin. "We get different people here - business people, ladies who lunch and families in the evening. But none of them wants a stuffy atmosphere, just a good, relaxed meal." Approachable And so Torbin delivers. His menu reads elegantly, but has at its heart very approachable combinations. Butternut squash velout‚ with blue cheese and red onion croquante to start, say, or rolled terrine of confit chicken and ham hock, fruit chutney, French bean and mushroom salad. For mains there is currently roast salt cod, braised fennel and leeks, pommes Lyonnaise and chicken jus. "I try to do food that if I went out to eat I would like. I want a menu where everything appeals," he says. Another starter of raviolo of crab comes simply with white onion pur‚e and red mullet soup. Torbin uses the less common blue swimming crab (which he says has more flavour and more texture), then binds the meat with a mousse, before putting the pasta in a shallow bouillabaisse with the pur‚e. "It doesn't need anything else," he says. "It would just get in the way." His balanced formality is also evident on the plated dish. For steamed line-caught sea bass with braised root vegetables and cauliflower velout‚, Torbin wraps the fish in clingfilm with basil leaves which he steams for about five minutes, and then - because "there's no need to be delicate with sea bass" - serves it on a velout‚ with actual chunks of cauliflower (not a foam in sight, just a sweet raisin caper vinaigrette to accompany). Important But the most important thing is the price tag. Three courses during the week for lunch is a hugely reasonable £18.50. At this level it's a gift. For dinner at the weekends it creeps up to only £23.50. It's a down-to-earth approach that reflects the tone of the menu. Most of 28-year-old Torbin's training in England has been under Hywel Jones and David Nicholls at London's Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. After joining the hotel as a demi chef in 1998, Torbin then went with Jones as sous chef to Lola's and on to Pharmacy, which closed and left Jones heading for Lucknam Park in Colerne, Wiltshire. The classically based, largely French-inspired, approach of those two chefs is evident, but Torbin treats the genre with a modern sensibility and practicality. "I want to take the food to the next level, but you have to evolve the food slowly or you lose all your clients," he says. He's honest enough to admit that means he wants a Michelin star - "who doesn't?" he asks - but knows that to achieve it you need consistency in the kitchen, where he has about six chefs working. "You have to be grown-up enough to think about whether the brigade can do it at full tilt on a Saturday before you put it on the menu on Monday." n Chapter Two, 43-45 Montpelier Vale, Blackheath Village, London SE3 0TJ, tel 020 8333 2666 []( What's on the menu *Prices range from £18.50 for three-course lunch during the week, to £23.50 for dinner at weekends* - Warm boudin of veal sweetbreads and ham hock, pork jus reduction - Honey-roast quail, celeriac and apple r‚moulade, hazelnut vinaigrette - Roast breast of Barbary duck, confit beetroot, creamed endive and peach pur‚e - Pan-fried salmon, crushed new potatoes, globe artichoke, sweet carrot and basil broth - Warm coconut and poppyseed cake, white chocolate anglaise and salad of raspberries - Croustillant of black fig, aged balsamic and a vanilla yogurt sorbet Chef's Tip To keep cream-based sauces lighter, try using crème fraîche throughout the cooking process.
Torbin: "I want a menu where everything appeals"
Caramelised banana, chocolate feuilleteen and honeycomb ice-cream
Aged fillet of Angus Beef
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