Reviews for Galvin La Chapelle almost write themselves. It’s the latest restaurant from chef siblings, Chris and Jeff Galvin, it offers a healthy mixture of contemporary and classic French cuisine and it’s in a converted church hall. The slew of critics paying homage to French fancy, worshipping at the altar of the Galvin brothers and citing the restaurant as worthy of high praise seem almost inevitable. Yet, when all is said and done, what makes Galvin La Chapelle one of the most exciting new restaurants to open in the capital is that it serves up bloody good food in breathtaking surroundings.
Whilst the Spitalfields’ restaurant is impressive from the outside, it’s nothing compared to the interior. With its high vaulted ceiling, towering columns and pale stonework, in less competent hands the restaurant could so easily have felt austere. However, the sensitively restored framework of the church hall is juxtaposed against contemporary design flourishes and it’s a triumph – warm, welcoming and with plenty of wow factor.
The bar on the ground floor is a good place to stop for a quick aperitif before making your way to your table. Alcoves provide privacy although if you’re dining at a table in the middle of the room you’ll have a better view of the open kitchen. High overhead, stripped back candelabra have tiny halogen lights in place of candles and the light from them sparkles as it hits the glass wall of the mezzanine dining area sitting on top of the bar and kitchen.
Just as suited to business dinners as intimate first dates, Galvin La Chapelle has achieved the seemingly impossible task of marrying the two. Alcoves around the edge of the room and superior acoustics help to create a sense of privacy but it’s a sociable restaurant so you won’t have to talk in reverently hushed tones. At night, the warm amber lighting shimmers off the glass of the staircase and mezzanine dining area and burnishes the wooden rafters and the dulche de leche tones of the marble floor. Every so often the chefs nip out from the kitchen to greet diners that include the likes of fellow chef Jun Tanaka – a friendly touch that you often find in France but far less frequently in the capital.
The food is in keeping with its surroundings – the ingredients are classic French (there’s a lot of emphasis on the seasonality of ingredients) but the interpretation is inventive and inspirational. For starters, the salad of red leg partridge (£7.50) is a good choice. A generous portion of partridge is seared on the outside so that the meat is juicy and not overcooked and the salad leaves are sprinkled with crispy bacon lardons and a light, sugary maple dressing that’s not at all treacly and the pomegranate seeds are the final flourish. Their crunchy texture adds interest on the palate whilst their gleaming ruby coloured flesh is very visually appealing. The Escabeche of Yellow Fin Tuna (£10.50) is a revelation. At a glance it appears to be sashimi but in fact it is prepared using a popular Spanish method - the fish is generously sliced, lightly seared and marinated in herbs, then served cold.
The veal cheeks (£17.50) are served with zingara herbs and pommes puree. The creamed potato is exceptionally smooth and works well with the tender texture of the veal cheeks that are cooked with a very fine sprinkling of tongue and ham in olive oil. The grilled red mullet is fluffy and light and whilst you can’t taste the herbs suspended in the herb fritters that’s not really the point – eaten with a forkful of fish they achieve the same effect as pan frying but with considerably more panache.
For dessert, the blueberry soufflé (£8.50) is worth the slightly longer waiting time and when it arrives at the table the top is carefully punctured (so that it doesn’t lose any of its puff) and a blueberry coulis poured carefully inside. The warmth and rich flavours of the pudding contrast with the cool simplicity of the scoop of milk ice cream that’s served on the side. If you’ve missed the Mini Milk ice creams of your youth, now’s your chance to relive the memories. The generous glass of lightly chilled red dessert wine that’s recommended to accompany it is also the perfect foil and the coolness of the wine on your palate contrasts beautifully with the warmth of the souffle and accentuates the burst of berries in every mouthful.
It wouldn’t be a French restaurant without a heaving cheese trolley and they certainly know their stuff. Soft and hard cheeses are carefully arranged in order of strength so that you don’t confuse your palate and accompanied with country bread and a bowl of grapes and celery. Whilst the selection of French farmhouse cheese (£10.50) is superb, the Fougeroux aux Truffes is exceptional. Specially made to order for Galvin La Chapelle, once you’ve tried the Fougeroux with a layer of fresh white truffles sandwiched in the middle, you won’t ever want to eat any other type of cheese.
Due to Galvin La Chapelle’s relationship with the producers of the famous Hermitage La Chapelle you won’t find many of the bottles of wine anywhere else and it allows them to also offer many more options by the glass than they would otherwise be able to. They’re justifiably proud of their cellar and bottles are on display around the restaurant. Although there are bottles of wine available for over £1,000 the far more modestly priced wine available by the glass doesn’t feel like the cheaper option. A glass of red 2007 Saint Cirice is just £4 and its ripe berry flavours make it a good accompaniment to red meat. If you’re ordering fish, opt for the lighter red Cadet de Gascogne at £5 a glass. Leave some of your budget for a glass of dessert wine or port – the sommelier’s suggestions really bring out the flavours in the desserts. In fact, the one quibble is that the sommelier's advice is so in demand that you may have to wait a while at busy periods.
The Last Word
Galvin La Chapelle walks the fine line of contrasts with panache. Perched on the cusp of Spitalfields and The City, the interiors are impressive without being intimidating. Traditional French ingredients are served with creativity and the high end service is as suited to intimate dates as it is to business dinners. Keeping it in the family is proving to be a successful formula for the Galvin brothers and Galvin La Chapelle is another well deserved feather in the familial cap.