Friday, 18 December 2009

Galvin Cafe De Luxe

The Galvin brothers opened Galvin La Chapelle to quite some fanfare a few weeks ago and it seems like every blog and newspaper and restaurant website you can think of has weighed in with a review of the place recently.  Generally speaking they're all very positive although there seems to be a common theme of being distinctly underwhelmed by the whole experience, the high expectations from the Galvin brothers previous ventures, the rather dramatic setting of their new place and the prices charged making it quite common to see reviews ending with rather wistful noises about what could/should have been.

But whatever, something that seems to have gone pretty much uncommented on is the cafe operation attached to the side of the main restaurant.  Wandering past it tonight in freezing temperatures, snow coming down horizontally at 100mph thanks to a biting wind that was whipping up my trousers and on the verge on unmanning me, that was all the excuse I needed to pop in and investigate.  Open from 8am doing breakfasts and through the day with a 'plat du jour' at lunch and into the evening it's a much more ordinary looking affair that backs out onto Bishop's Square than the spectacularly housed restaurant with its discreet Spital Square side entrance into the renovated St Botolph's church.  It's actually a bit surreal sitting as it does beneath several floors of brand spanking new City Lifestyle designer apartments, which you can gaze up at from within parts of the cafe thanks to the glass ceiling and the two small outdoor seating areas.  It reminded me a little bit of the Blueprint Cafe, the restaurant above the Design Museum on Butler's Wharf where you can look out on one side straight into several of the swish riverside flats next door to it and watch the residents pottering around as you eat your dinner.  Or maybe I just need to curb my voyeurism.

Sitting at the bar, still with my coat and scarf on (although I'd taken my gloves off - I do know how to behave in these places) I ordered a gin martini and took a look at the menu whilst waiting for me to come up to the same temperature as the rest of the room.  The martini was decent enough, the "twist" of lemon peel (about 1/4 of a lemon) somewhat over the top but it was nicely chilled and did a good job of warming me up, the poor waiter who was sent diving through the doors into the wet arctic gale to rescue some chairs that were being blown away could probably have done with one too.  The menu reads well, it's full of things you want to eat (assuming you're not a vegetarian) and it's not easy making a normal-sized-person choice - onion soup, snails, steak tartare, herrings, fois gras terrine and a choice of oysters amongst the starters, pork belly, bouillabaisse, steak, boudin noir stick in the mind from the choice of mains although they're all described in much more attractive detail than that.

I had ham and celeriac remoulade starter and am kicking myself for not being able to remember the name of the ham - air-cured and sliced wafer thin with large pristine white fatty borders it was stunningly good.  Parma, serrano, iberico, san danielle, whatever, if it's previously been part of a pig and it's been cured then I'm a big fan of it and this rated up there with the very best I've had, beautifully soft and moist with a deep but gentle flavour that forces you to slow down and savour every mouthful.  The celeriac was spot on too, a classic pairing to be sure, but so often it's the kitchen cocking up the straightforward things that really dispirits me - the shonky mayonnaise, flabby chips, bland aioli, too-sharp ketchup, fridge-cold butter, gloopy bearnaise, bacon that looks like it's been microwaved.

Next up was confit leg of duck with braised lentils and black pudding, not quite as successful but I still would have licked the plate clean if the place hadn't been so busy.  The duck had a nice crispy skin but the meat itself was too dry, the former probably causing the latter.  The lentils and black pudding were delicious, rich and hearty, the black pudding of the soft and crumbly variety that you can almost spread on stuff and just right for this dish.  Other dishes getting wheeled out around me look great, the onion soup and the bouillabaisse in particular.  I think if I had my time again I'd order the onion soup followed by two ham and celeriacs.

All classic stuff that you'd expect to see really, and the cafe menu reads a lot more like a shorter version of the menu from their first restaurant, Bistrot de Luxe.  Comparisons with it's grand conjoined twin are inevitable though: La Chapelle has a Cote de Boeuf (for 2) the cafe offers a rib eye steak (for 1); La Chap serves a pavé of halibut, in the caff you get a wood roast sea bream; LC can do you a tagine of "squab pigeon", CDL a confit duck leg; in the churchy bit they have a "Feuillette of baby leeks, salsify and hazlenut emulsion" (oh yes they do) and well, I think you probably get the point.  La Chapelle is big and elaborate, impressive to look at and hitting all the aspirational pressure points in the bodies of the expenses-fuelled City lunchtime wheeler and dealer with the clinical expertise of a Bangkok soapy massage.  The Cafe De Luxe on the other hand sits quietly round the back with its low ceiling and funky zinc bar and little tables, serving familiar food that people want to eat and sending them on their way with a proper happy ending.

A couple of other points worth mentioning: the menu for the cafe has a "from the wood oven" section with only 4 items on it - a tarte flambé and pizzas (one of which was a pissaladière, a white pizza) - but which sounded impressive, just one or two ingredients on each suggesting a confidence that reeled me in, I nearly ordered the ceps pizza.  I didn't see a single one served unfortunately but am keen to return and investigate what's quite an odd little section to be sitting in the middle of their menu.  I don't recall a "from the wood oven" section in the La Chapelle menu although I'm sure it must be used for some of the dishes, they can't have installed such a thing in their kitchen just to knock out pizzas for the cafe.  A final thumbs up goes to the wine list, predominantly (but not totally) French they have a good size proportion available by the glass (175ml), small pot (250ml), large pot (450ml) as well as the bottle.  Not the whole list unfortunately, but it's nice to see them making an effort that more places should be making.

Details of all the Galvin restaurants can be found on their website.  They don't mention the hand-dryers in the toilets that will blast the skin off your hands if you're not careful - be warned.

Bugger, the name of that ham is really winding me up, noix de something I think, ggnnnnnnnnnnn


  1. Great post must check out the cafe soon.

  2. thanks. I can recommend them for breakfast as well! Not had lunch there but it looks very popular.