I mentioned the other week that I didn’t get taken out by Work very much. It may have seemed a bit odd that I then wrote about 3 lunches I’d recently been treated to. And the proclamation probably seems even more ill founded when I tell you that a rather good evening at Galvin La Chapelle last week came courtesy of the Big Cheeses. No need to think I’m too spoiled though: they gives with one hand, they takes with about 4 others, I can assure you.
This latest outpost of the Galvin brothers’ empire opened last year and has been collecting accolades since. We hoped that it would provide a fine dining experience, without the boring, staid and overly reserved atmosphere that you get in so many top end restaurants.
It certainly delivers on the atmosphere. I don’t mean there’s a buzz like, say, Roka or Fino (or Polpo, for that matter). Nor is it a star spotting place like J Sheekey or Nobu. Rather, the beautiful room (an old school chapel – hence the name) provides a feeling of luxury, whilst still managing to foster the pleasant murmur of contented chattering: a mezzanine floor in one corner breaks up the space between the floor and the high beamed ceiling; the tables are dotted around so that you can both feel private as well as people watch; and a number of my colleagues remarked that the chairs were potentially the best restaurant chairs ever. They definitely do a good job of keeping you comfortable, without being soporific.
The food was excellent too.
The starters on our table included Dorset crab lasagne in a girolle veloute. By all accounts, this was excellent. Presented under a porcelain serving dish, the lasagne was a pretty little cylindrical stack of crab and (just a couple) rounds of pasta in a delicate broth. Two of the group had ordered this and both loved it (they provided soundbites at the time, but I can’t really remember them as I write). Two others had chosen the partridge and pomegranate salad as their starter. Again, both said this was rather good, but both were also a little surprised by the thigh joint/a piece of gristle whilst they were eating. A vegetable terrine of Provencale vegetables looked rather fine. I (and another) had selected escabeche of tuna (yellow fin, obv). The raw fish had been covered in coriander and, I guess, wrapped in cling film, rolled so as to make a cylinder and then sliced into beautiful dark red discs. We both thought the smudge of aubergine ‘caviar’ went particularly well. A good start all round.
The crab folk copied each other again and had red mullet for their second course. Can’t say I paid much attention to this (my eyes were mostly focussed on my plate at this point) and, again, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the helpful adjectives that were chucked my way (sorry). A couple of the guys chose the selection of lamb. The website menu suggests rump, shoulder, sweetbreads and liver. Was there some loin as well (again, I wasn’t looking that hard)? Either way, one of them thought the selection could have had a greater preference for the quality cuts. There wasn’t anything left on either of their plates, though.
What else? A pave of sea trout was vivid pink and perfectly cooked (and accompanied by a super (I am told) slow roast tomato risotto). My tuna pal went vegetarian for his plat principal – a fricassé of parmesan gnocchi, girolles, broad beans & Italian artichokes. Again, without wanting to be repetitive, I’m told this was rather good.
I took on the pigs trotter. I sampled and enjoyed Pierre Koffman’s trotter on top of Selfridges last year. Whereas his was stuffed with veal sweetbreads and morels, Galvin’s version was stuffed with ham hock and wild mushrooms. Effectively this meant a pale kind of sausage meat stuffing wrapped in the skin of (and shaped as) a pig’s trotter. I enjoyed it, though would have liked a few more of the identifiable bits of ham hock in the stuffing. The madeira and little wild mushroom sauce made the dish. Uber rich and, I suspect, gout inducing. Ideal. Creamed potato on the side was exactly right.
A number of the crew went for the cheese platter for dessert. The man with the credit card showed excellent decision making and leadership by also ordering extra cheese for the table. All was supplied by La Fromagerie; so no surprises as to the quality. On the downside, I think we were given a few too many samples of goats cheese and not enough blue; and there could have been a more interesting selection of crackers and bread.
Some of us also took on sweet dishes too. A raspberry mille-feuille was striking and enjoyed by the two people who shared it. I think it’s worth mentioning that the raspberries sparked a light hearted debate about seasonality. For my part, whilst I’m sure it was nice, I bet the kitchen produced better tasting versions a couple of months ago. [It might not, technically, have been a mille-feuille either - more like three thin sheets rather than thousands of layers of pastry.] Maybe they could think about a stack of more seasonal fruits for the Autumn and winter period?
I tried to order the blueberry souffle, but at the last minute my head was overruled by my heart and I requested the cold chocolate fondant (a friend of mine says chocolate is a tax on women; he could be right, but it’s a levy that’s heavily subsidised by me). Fortunately this was a suitably decadent dessert, the richness of which was cut nicely by tangy milk/yoghurt ice cream. There were a couple of fantastic pieces of honeycomb on the side and it was ultimately the highlight (food wise) of my evening. The picture below from Galvin’s website gives you a good idea.
La Chapelle really is very good; I commend it as a ‘treat’ restaurant that serves fine food in accessible but smart surroundings. The fittings ooze quality and the staff are efficient but friendly. Interestingly, one of the group wondered whether, for the price and style of the restaurant, we might have expected an amuse bouche. I personally think that (a) there wasn’t any need – I was stuffed (though I did have plenty of cheese on top of a very rich main course and dessert); and, more importantly, (b) the presence of that kind of thing is indicative of more pretentious and often less enjoyable venues.
Galvin La Chapelle in 3 words
Rich. Great chairs.
Kindly picked up by the Boss. But if you have 3 courses, you’re looking at about £40-£50 per head for food alone. Add aperitifs, good wine and extra cheese for the table, and you are definitely in special occasion territory.
www.galvinrestaurants.com – 35 Spital Square, London, E1 6DX - 020 7299 0400