Restaurateur brothers are a rarer mix than one would initially imagine. There are the Gladwins, doing great things in West London, and the Harts with Barrafina, to say nothing of the Roux dynasty: a true family business. Yet the really successful empire-building siblings are quite an uncommon bunch, which makes the Galvin brothers, Chris and Jeff, unusual at the outset. However, issues of birth and relations aside, their restaurants are distinguished by their consistently fantastic and innovative food.
From Galvin at Windows on Park Lane (made doubly famous by its maitre’d, Fred Siriex) to their informal Spitalfields pub, ‘Hop’, they have flown the flag for Anglo-French cuisine at the highest of standards. Fittingly, for pioneers like them, they have conquered the world, opening restaurants everywhere from the sublime (Edinburgh) to the more…unexpected, in the form of Chelmsford; yet even here, the Galvin Green Man has won awards and acclaim by the score.
The restaurant of theirs, though, which I had never hitherto visited, though I had heard consistently fantastic feedback, was Galvin la Chapelle, situated next door to Hop and consistent holder of a Michelin star since 2011. The word on the street was, after the closure of their (excellent) Baker Street bistro, Galvin Bistrot De Luxe, that some of the best dishes had migrated over there, but were executed with a panache and brilliance by head chef Alex Piombino that saw them finessed to yet greater heights.
And then, of course, there is the room, one of London’s finest. A conversion of a girl’s school, it has a peaceful and even spiritual air a world away from the madding crowd of City workers and their preoccupations. In here, time seems to disappear; as lunch moves seamlessly into its third hour, one feels as peaceful and tranquil as if one has gone on a short holiday.
This feeling of ease is engendered by two things; the outstanding food, and the even more brilliant staff. Piombino manages to make dishes that sound as if they should be heavy and rich come across as both delicate and light. His interpretation of the Galvin signature starter, the crab lasagne, is a delight, combining the freshest and most succulent crab with a firm, buttery pasta. For something (slightly) heartier, a combination of Gallician octopus and n’duja is robust and about as carnivorous as this fine creature gets. Accompanied by, of all things, an English Chardonnay that comes from West Sussex via Earls Court and tastes like a fine Chablis – the so-called ‘London Cru’ – this is the stuff of fable.
The consistency never drops throughout the meal. We venture into cod and beef (separately) for the main courses, and both are sublime, and not at all ridiculous; the chateaubriand for one, a delight that I have never encountered before, is beautifully cooked and presented and entirely lacks that lingering ‘meatiness’ that beef often has. Accompanied by a glass of an unusual Italian red from Piedmont, both prove treats beyond compare. Yet what elevates everything is how genuinely friendly and pleasant the staff are.
The sommelier takes the time to discuss the wines in detail, but never with the slightest hint of patronising us; the manageress regales us with a recent Italian trip (‘mid twenties heat, and in October!’) and nobody we encounter is anything less than entirely lovely. This might sound the norm, but so often staff in restaurants don’t go the extra mile to make an experience a memorable one. At Galvin la Chapelle, it comes as standard.
After a possibly unnecessary but entirely welcome cheese course – with the most fabulous Comté – then it’s time for desserts. Chocolate ganache with banana ice cream is the perfect mixture of sweet and ever-so-slightly tart, and one of the best examples of its kind I’ve ever encountered. My companion eschews the Galvin signature tarte tatin in favour of a weird, but rather wonderful, choux bun, which he pronounces ‘the first sweet thing I’ve had in ages, and the nicest’. After this high praise, it’s time to head out into the (decidedly unseasonal) sunlight, secure in the happy knowledge that this particular Anglo-French delight is firing on all conceivable cylinders. Jolly bon show all round.
Galvin La Chapelle, 35 Spital Square, London E1 6DY. For more information, including offers and promotions for the festive season, visit www.galvinrestaurants.com.