London’s Bonhams and The Chancery

Joyous wine lists and superlative cooking unmuffled by overt cheffiness set these two savvy London restaurants apart

Image: Bonhams

I would happily sit in the dining room at Bonhams – the famous auction house’s new restaurant, tucked away in a courtyard behind Bond Street – with just a plate of its excellent cheeses and a copy of the benevolently priced wine list: Lynch-Bages 1985, for example, at a reasonable £190, or Domaine Jean Grivot’s sublime Clos de Vougeot 1999 for £195. To finish, you might even splash out on a £5 glass of Hine 1983.

One day, all restaurants will realise that modest mark-ups on great wines actually persuade diners to spend more, not less. In the meantime, wine lovers will have to search out enlightened places such as Bonhams (pictured) to find the biggest bang for their bordeaux and burgundy bucks.

There is no need to simply stick to the cheese plate, though; Bonhams’ food is as fine as its wine list. Chef Tom Kemble marries impeccable technique and top-notch produce to create a short, attractive menu that allows ingredients to speak for themselves, unmuffled by overt cheffiness. A Burford Brown egg, for instance, lightly coated in breadcrumbs, unctuously soft within, surrounded by raw slices of Italian artichoke and a light, chlorophyll-rich foam of wild garlic, was pleasingly colourful and rich in both texture and flavour.

As a main course, roast squab pigeon with peas, broad beans and morels was as good a dish as I’ve eaten this year: juicy pink breast meat, the leg crisp and savoury, the sauce enriched with the bird’s innards and the fleeting scent of fresh morels drifting seductively over the plate.

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Pudding, a chocolate sabayon tart, offered further evidence of Kemble’s skill, with crisp, short pastry, a velvet-smooth filling and a scoop of sublimely mellow coffee ice cream. Bonhams is open just for breakfast and lunch, with a “supper club” on Thursdays, but it can’t be long before Kemble’s menus are on offer at dinner as well.

The Chancery, in a quiet street near Holborn, has similar appeal: a quiet, rather demure dining room, a joyously eclectic wine list and a talented British chef in the kitchen – this time Graham Long, an alumnus of Pied à Terre.

Fine ingredients are sensitively handled here too: marinated raw scallops paired with cucumber jelly and avocado, wafers of sesame filo adding crunch; a fine chunk of wild halibut with a laverbread crust, pickled cockles, nasturtium leaves and – what all well-dressed plates are wearing this year – roasted cauliflower; puddings (“dark chocolate and lime, multiple elements”) are complex yet thoughtful.

Little hullabaloo surrounds either Bonhams or The Chancery, which is perhaps why I like them so much: two restaurants calmly looking after their diners with consummate skill and charm, with wines that raise the spirits, not just the bill.

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