Chancery Lane, marking the western edge of the City of London, is noted for its medieval and legal associations, notably the Knights Templar, the High Court of Chancery, legal chambers and the Law Society. Steeped in longevity and tradition, amid inexorable modern development, this area of narrow streets, alleys and cul de sacs, has retained much of its historical character.
Aptly named after its judicial surroundings, The Chancery Restaurant lies at the corner Tock’s Court and Cursitor Street, a quiet but busy thoroughfare to the east of Chancery Lane. Although not as old as the distinguished institutions nearby, its ten year life as an independent restaurant is no mean achievement by central London standards. Opened by Andrew Thompson and Zak Jones in 2004, it has stood the test of time, attracting and retaining a well-heeled and discerning City clientele.
With 40 covers spread across two small dining rooms and a private dining room seating 14-15 – there is also a bar downstairs – The Chancery’s relatively small capacity makes it ideal for more intimate dining. The cleverly designed interior, with archway, white walls and ceiling and large mirrors, give an added sense of space. Pendant lights hang over well-spaced tables dressed in fine napery. Recent refurbishment of black and crimson banquettes add comfort, whilst contemporary interest is provided by the work of artists Tess Jaray, Kenneth Martin, Michael Landy and Gary Walton.
The Chancery’s tenth anniversary sees the arrival of Graham Long whose impressive Curriculum Vitae augurs well for the future. Seasoned experience as sous chef at Sir Charles Napier Restaurant in Chinnor, (2005-9), then at the two Michelin-starred Pied à Terre (2009-11), under Shane Osborn fully established his gastronomic pedigree. This was confirmed by another two years in Hong Kong (2012-14) as sous chef to Shane Osborn at Alan Yau’s new modern European restaurant, St. Betty.
Now, with his first position as Head Chef leading a team of five, Graham is able to give full rein to his passion for seasonal, top quality produce. Provenance is of crucial importance, food being sourced from small local artisanal businesses or from farmers with whom he has direct contact. Both classical and contemporary techniques are used to do full justice to the ingredients. His cooking features multi-component dishes, revealing innovative but harmonious combinations of flavours and textures. Timing is generally accurate, with clean tastes and artistic presentation.
The menus show ambition tempered with a realistic approach to choice and price point. The carte of five starters, six mains and five desserts or cheese charged at £35 for two courses, £42 for three is a relative bargain for central London. This applies also to the six or seven course tasting menu at £55 /£60, or £85 / £95 with a flight of wines. Indeed, good wine, keenly priced and with special promotions, is a well-established feature of the restaurant.
Fine Dining Guide visited on a weekday evening in December, sampling the tasting menu with wines
Firstly, a visually stunning salad of heirloom carrots was warm, soft and gently pickled. It worked well with the bitterness of radiccio, the nuttiness of black quinoa, the crispness of a sesame tuile and the aromatic fragrance of coriander. Creme fraiche gave richness, and acted a sour dressing, lifting the whole dish. (Wine: 2013 Visintini Ramato Pinot Grigo, Friuli, Italy)
The second course proved to be a delightful, well balanced dish: marinated raw hand dived scallops served with an intense cucumber jelly and rich avocado cream, a sesame filo tuile gave contrasting texture whilst the sweet and sour shiso dressing brought the whole dish together, without overwhelming the delicate freshness of the seafood. (Wine: 2012 Terras d’Alter Viognier, Alto Alentejo, Portugal)
Next came a risotto, spiked with Jerusalem artichoke and hazelnuts, and liberally dressed with shavings of black and white truffle. This combination, although luxurious, might have been improved by a richer stock and a less claggy texture. The hazelnuts proved intrusive, rather than complementing the other elements. This was the only disappointing feature across the whole menu.
The fish course saw an accurately timed fillet of Rye crumbed gilt sea bream, partnered with smoked cod roe, the two elements complementing each other well in flavour and texture thanks to the roe not being too heavily smoked. Aubergine puree, pickled salsify and lemon oil worked well with the main ingredients, adding richness and the necessary acidity. (Wine: 2012 Julg Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany)
As befitting a winter menu, game featured in the meat course. Tender, well flavoured medallions of loin of herb crusted fallow deer, cooked medium rare, showed the virtues of precise cooking and the inherent quality of the product. An innovative bacon quenelle and roasted onions added elements of sweetness, balanced by slightly bitter qualities of steamed curly kale and a stout based sauce. (Wine: 2009 Andrea Oberto Barolo, Piedmont, Italy)
Finally, the two desserts sampled revealed the strengths of the pastry section.
A composite dish of banana and ale bread, banana mousse, salted caramel, and peanut ice cream was highly accomplished. The cake like bread was well flavoured; the mousse delicate; the blobs of salted caramel rich but not overly sweet; and the ice cream velvety smooth. This marriage of tastes and texture was very satisfying indeed.
Similarly, soft, poached comice pear served with tiny warm financiers scented with thyme, scattered with almond crumble and anointed with a quenelle of decadently rich Gosnells mead ice cream proved to be another beautifully conceived and perfectly executed dessert. (Wine: 2011 Weingut Zilliken Saarburger Rausch Kabinett, Saar Valley, Germany)
To finish, the coffee, tea, herbal infusion menu, with helpful notes, gives ample choice.
Other aspects of the meal were exemplary. The sommelier’s choice of matching wines was expertly rendered, with descriptions being pleasingly concise rather than effusive. The service, under the guidance of Zak Jones, was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive without being intrusive. It was also extremely patient as we were over an hour late, having been stuck in traffic on the M4!
Overall, Graham Long has made an impressive start, which is not unexpected given his background in Michelin starred restaurants. Now he is master of his own kitchen, Graham, inevitably influenced by his mentors, nevertheless has a chance to stamp his own imprint on his cuisine. Given that the area is not noted for its fine dining restaurants, he should have little trouble in attracting a wider audience. Fine Dining Guide will follow his career with interest.