Something about our Saturday night booking at Galley has given us a sense of occasion. Shaun announces that he’s going to Do Something with his beard, and loses an hour and a half in front of the mirror perfecting his facial chiaroscuro. I wear an actual dress, rather than the Home Alone-era Kevin McCallister chic that anybody sensible is going to be sporting on this freezing winter’s night. We’re pushing the boat out, big time.
Hard to say why Galley has prompted this. Nothing about the website or the rep suggests the new Highbury opening is very formal or stuffy. Or that they’d care if I turned up in long johns or Shaun with his beard in disarray.
It’s just that it sounds good. An independent, in a bit of Islington that’s getting increasingly taken over by chains. A lot of British seafood and a lot of Asian and North African influences. An ex-Randall & Aubin chef, and twelve kinds of G&T on the drinks list. And if all of that didn’t spark a sense of occasion then some seriously ornate cocktails – including ones featuring rosebud mist, lemon crust and mascarpone – would have done the trick.
I start with a Brandy Rustic, a fiercely alcoholic Jules Clairon, Luxardo Maraschino and Cointreau trifecta, and Shaun goes for one involving gin, Earl Grey tea syrup and that rosebud mist, that sounds less forceful than mine but definitely isn’t.
So maybe we’re already under the influence for the ordering stage, which would explain our starters. We order the crispy squid with Japanese pepper sauce and coriander, which is uncontroversial as a choice. And then, for no solid reason: padron peppers, with paneer, carrot and quinoa salad.
The squid is great, because squid is great. Maybe this has the edge on other squid, because of the pepper sauce and the crunch of the batter, but it’s a known quantity. The quinoa, though. Quinoa is something that the universe puts in Prêt salads as a mild punishment for not having made your own lunch. But I’ve fixated on the padron peppers and Shaun makes a compelling case for the quinoa being a pointless but barely-there garnish.
It turns out there’s a lot of quinoa. And it turns out they’ve performed some alchemy on the quinoa to make it great. Squid-level great. We poke at it disbelievingly between teriyaki-heavy mouthfuls, in a ‘what dark magic is this?’ sort of way, but only for the two minutes it takes for there to be no peppers, paneer or quinoa left at all.
So things are off to an excellent if surreal start. For main courses we share lobster papardelle, and a pan-fried sea bass with gnocchi and peas. Both of them just as excellent as the starters, although less surreal – the sea bass edging out over the papardelle, which feels a bit bare next to the gnocchi’s wild mushroom broth.
By the time we reach the desserts and a whisky, we’re feeling trusting and pick more or less at random. The lavender and raspberry crème brûlée smells like lavender and crunches like brûlée, but doesn’t taste of much but crème. Still a pretty good thing to taste of, but not something to order when there’s chocolate and cherry fondant on the same menu, spiked with Amaretto and served with mascarpone icecream. Forsake the crème brûlée. The icecream has all your dairy needs covered.
We surrender our table for the next sitting, it’s just a few weeks after opening but Galley is booked solid for the night. And deservedly, because any one of those dishes – the padron peppers, or the sea bass, or even just a fierce cocktail and that chocolate fondant – would be worth planning well in advance for.
Galley, 106 Upper Street, N1 1QN. Tel: 0203 670 0740. Website.