Riding on the bus to Galvin La Chapelle, I am already picturing the dry martini I will have on arrival. I can envisage the whole ritual - the slow cooling of the long stemmed cocktail glass, a slosh of gin, a dash of vermouth, a quick stir, the gentle pour, a single stir inside the iced glass, a run of lemon peel around the rim, add an olive, serve, sip, shoulders relax, face brightens, smile. Aaahhh...
And it pretty much goes to plan, except that I was not expecting to drink it in surrounds with all the ambience of a state library.
"Do you think anyone else is coming?" I whisper to The Peanut Gallery. It's just prior to 7.30pm, and there are a few tables seated, making all the noise of a pair of socks hitting the carpet.
I was expecting to be all agog at G La C's much lauded vaulted ceilings, impressive columns and high arches, the plush leather backed seats, the white table clothes and all the other shiny bits. But my overriding impression at first sight was of the corporate character and hushed tones. If G La C could be wearing a grey pin stripe and a calculator in its pocket, it would be. Where was the glamorous French bistro with some wow factor on the side? This room had nothing like the dazzle of the Wolesley or the jaw to floor effect of restaurants like Matsuri in New York. This was not a place for raucous laughter and gregariousness.
We took our seat under the arches, placed our order and, despite the attentive service, I uttered the magic words I had been holding back hopefully during cocktail hour: "I already know I'm not going to like this place". The Greedy Diva had spoken.
And then on cue - sudden unexpected joy and merriment, buzz, noise, chatter, laughter, lights, action, the drama of trays dropping around us and the imminent arrival of our delicious looking food. TPG looked on smugly. The times they were a changing.
My Moroccan tagine of squab pigeon was tender and perfectly cooked. It came bedded on cous cous, deliciously sweet and savoury, with black olives, almonds and raisons, and a shot of spicy harissa on the side. The accompanying quail's egg looked pretty, but was a fairly flavourless addition to an otherwise alluring dish.
TPG's venison with red cabbage, apple match sticks and puree was a gorgeous combination, even if the venison alone was not a stand out.
I had missed out jealously on the blueberry souffle with coulis and milk ice-cream once before at Bistrot Galvin De Luxe - and in the words of George Bush "fool me once...." etc - it wasn't going to get past me again. Our waiter spliced the top of the perfectly formed souffle and poured in the coulis while we watched in awe, trying to hold back our spoons. I had been salivating over this moment for months. Alas, another turn of events - while the texture was beautiful, the pudding was far too jammy for me. The coulis was overbearring, and was swirled throughout the souffle even before it was added through the top on serving. TPG selflessly finished it off for me. The milk ice-cream was fabulous.
TPG's creme caramel with raisins mouleux was rich and delicious.
We greedily wanted more. We had seen the cheese trolley on arrival and there was no turning back. 6 gorgeous cheeses, from oozing brie to biting blue, were served up by our excellent waiter with a side of sliced celery and green grapes. These cheeses were alive and glorious. Come to mama....
Wines are conveniently available by the bottle, glass, small pot and large pot.
So, in the end I ate my words about this, the third restaurant of Chris and Jeff Galvin. While I prefer the capable Parisian simplicity of Bistrot Galvin De Luxe (see my earlier review here), La Chapelle's elegant cuisine and setting in a Victorian church hall has more pizazz. There are other places I would rather go for formal dining, but once the night warmed up there is definitely a fun chatter to the room - just don't arrive before 8pm when it feels rather soulless - and overall the food did not disappoint (with the exception of my souffle which came laden with high expectations).
You may wish to try the more casual Cafe Galvin de Luxe next door to get a taste of the kitchen without all the formality.
35 Spital Square, Shoreditch, London, E1 6DY