The Galvin brothers have just launched their third restaurant, in London's Spitalfields. Joanna Wood sees if it lives up to the reputation of its older siblings - Galvin Bistrot de Luxe and Galvin at Windows.
There are some restaurateurs everybody keeps tabs on because of their track record and general savvyness. Chris and Jeff Galvin, who launched their new restaurant, Galvin La Chapelle, in the east London hotspot of Spitalfields last month, are among that elite.
The new restaurant is perhaps their most ambitious venture to date. Housed in a former church school and its adjoining curate's house, it includes a fine-dining room as well as a more informal café and bar. As you'd expect, the interior design of the building has an elegant panache, nowhere more so than in the fine-dining area, which occupies the Grade II-listed site of the former school's assembly hall. The high, timber-framed roof, stone floors and columned side of the hall give an ecclesiastical nuance. But with the clever addition of a pewter counter - backing on to a semi-open kitchen and pass - plus a flexible mezzanine dining level that can be hired out for private dinners, the 94-seat dining room escapes from its heritage. In fact, it has echoes of the grand Continental café-styled Wolseley - no surprise, given Chris helped Conran to launch Piccadilly's celeb-spotting hotspot.
The menu, naturally, has much in common with the Bistrot de Luxe in Baker Street - something that hasn't gone down well with the few restaurant critics who have so far reviewed La Chapelle. But, actually, from a diner's point of view, a little bit of familiarity isn't necessarily a bad thing. "We want people to feel as if they ‘own' a part of the restaurant," says Jeff, who heads up the kitchen.
Much of the clientele is drawn from the banking world that is the City and from a swelling number of affluent residents in the Spitalfields and Shoreditch area. It's early days, but so far customers are vindicating the Galvins' decision to stick with what they do best - a creamy lasagne of Dorset crab with seasonal chanterelles and chervil (£11.50), always a favourite at the Bistrot, is proving an equal hit here among the starters.
But it would be wrong to suggest that everything is just a carbon copy of tried-and-tested dishes from La Chapelle's sister restaurant. Things are often tweaked and adapted - the Bistrot crab lasagne, for instance, is with beurre Nantais - and often made lighter to cater for the number of female City workers dropping in. And there are some dishes that are all La Chapelle's own, including an aniseed-tinged salad of red leg partridge with pomegranate and maple dressing (£7.50) that has a satisfying balance of sweet-and-savouriness and good depth of flavour to the bird meat.
The partridge, like all the restaurant's game, comes from Yorkshire. Its 28-day dry-aged Aberdeen Angus beef, on the other hand, is sourced from the Loch Fyne area of Scotland by Midlands-based butcher Aubrey Allen. Seen at its best in a roast côte de boeuf, carved and served at the table with a deeply comforting truffle macaroni and a Hermitage jus (£53 for two people), you'd expect the dish to be one of the hot sellers in the traditionally butch environment of the City. But while by no means unpopular, it's currently being outsold by a roast tranche of sea bass ("hurtling out", according to Jeff) served with seasonal fennel and winter vegetable bariguole (£22.50) - and also by a Moroccan-leaning tagine of squab pigeon with harissa sauce (£22.50).
Among the puds, which carry on in the classic-with-a-modern sensibility vein, blueberry soufflé, coulis and milk ice-cream, together with a prune and Armagnac parfait (both £8.50), have proved winners during the wind-and-rain-lashed November and December we've seen so far, even beating a warm chocolate tart with a proper cocoa kick and paper-thin pastry - offered in a prix-fixe menu recently at £24.50 for three courses - into submission.
The food critics might wish for a little more adventure on the menu, but judging by the full house when we visited and the advanced bookings through December, the Galvins have once more gauged their market precisely. And, just in case you've been wondering, yes - the restaurant is named after the iconic Hermitage la Chapelle wine - you can treat yourself to it by the glass - an expensive, but distinct plus, and the wine-list is extensive and interesting. But that's another story.
Galvin La Chapelle, St Botolph's Hall, 35 Spital Square, London E1 6DY
Tel: 020 7299 0400www.galvinrestaurants.com
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- Velouté of Potimarron pumpkin, chestnuts and cèpes, £7.50
- Salad of wood-fired autumn vegetables, walnuts and goats' cheese, £8.50
- Escabèche of yellow-fin tuna, aubergine caviar, £10.50
- Feuilleté of baby leeks, salsify and hazelnut emulsion, £14.50
- Suprême of Landaise chicken, poached leeks and shallot vinaigrette, £15.50
- Slow-cooked lamb shoulder à la Basquaise and herb ravioli, £18.50
- Chilled chocolate fondant, clementine marmalade, £8.50
- Pear tart tatin, crème fraîche, £9
- Crème caramel, raisins moelleux, £5.50