Picture this, a beautiful old building is built for the parish of Bishopsgate as part of a school for girls in 1890; serving as a parish hall and gymnasium. Enter the 70’s, a time of demolishing the old to make way for the new; and if not for a dedicated group of local residents that beautiful old building would have been demolished to make way for something a lot less beautiful.
While the old parish building was saved, it remained in a derelict state for over 17 years; leaving many wondering if the right decision was made.
As I wandered up the steps of the old church to the restaurant it had become, I knew nothing of the building’s history, save for the fact it looked old and literally took my breath away once I entered it’s hallowed doors.
Galvin La Chapelle opened in November 2009 after undergoing a complete refurbishment, creating an aesthetic reminiscent of the grandure of old, and La Chapelle was to become the third restaurant of brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin. As befitting a beautiful old building, the Brothers Galvin had produced a classic French menu that instantly catapulted the restaurant into the consciousness of London diners. Success came quickly for the brothers, winning no less than eight awards in their first year, then culminating with a coveted Michelin star.
Even though my booking was quite early, immaculately dressed wait staff were buzzing around the already busy restaurant. My seat afforded me a fantastic view of the very plush looking interior, but what most caught my attention was the ‘floating’ floor located high in the spire section of the building; looking as it if was defying the laws of gravity, the small dining space would have been quite a special place to dine. I wondered how you secured a space…
My menu was presented with more than a little flair and after the explanation about the chef’s tasting menu, I decided that the a la carte options would suffice for the evening. With many scrumptious looking options available, I quickly made up my mind and placed my order.
Bread followed shortly after, along with a bowl of green olives and a bottle of still water, which had been produced from the restaurant’s very own filtration system. I’m not a fan of green olives, so I set aside the bowl and focused on the bread, which had been presented with a lump of salted French butter. I love French butter and the team at Galvin knew that it was best served at room temperature, for easy spreading. I needed lashings of the butter though, unfortunately my bread was really dry and a little hard to swallow, even with the butter to smooth the way.
I’d hoped that it wasn’t a portent of things to follow?!
I’m a sucker for some ingredients, so when I saw the crisp Galician octopus with red pepper dressing and watermelon, I knew that I had to try it. There was a vibrancy on the plate when it was presented that emanated from the red pepper & watermelon dressing, and even through the carefully plated dollops of brightness had smeared on the way from the kitchen, I still loved the presentation. The crispy tentacle was surprisingly sweet and tender, the juxtaposition of the crispiness and the tenderness not lost on me. Extra flavour came from the lardo and some preserved lemon slices; I also thought the peach squares provided an extra layer of flavour.
Another of my favourite ingredients dominated my main course, and it was simply stunning! The corn-fed duck served with Victoria plums and textures of English sweet corn was a visual masterpiece and a pure delight to devour. The perfectly cooked duck breast with fat rendered juuuust right was full of flavour and tender. There was a confit of very powerfully flavoured leg meat that had been deep fried, with a lovely char on the coating, yet it maintained its moisture internally. Bringing the dish together was a sticky jus that was poured at the table. Contrasting the sweetness of the corn puree was a charred apricot, which was quite sharp, as was the charred bok choy. It was a substantial dish that was totally delicious.
As good as my starter and main were, I was left a little disappointed with my dessert. Let’s start by saying that I Love, Love, Love soufflés and I’ve had a few in my time. Once I saw that there was a souffle on the Galvin la Chapelle menu, there was never a doubt that I’d be ordering the traditional French dessert. When my blueberry soufflé served with toasted rice ice cream arrived, it looked as if it had risen perfectly. It wasn’t until I’d scooped inside the dessert that I realised that it was very moist and a little ‘soupy’ and heavy inside, as opposed to the light and airy soufflé’s that I’d experienced in the past. Asking my waiter about it, he quickly apologised and started to take the dessert from the table to be replaced; however, his counterpart stopped him and said that it was how the dessert was supposed to be…
Personally, I thought the soufflé was prepared wrong, and while it tasted OK, I just couldn’t get over the texture of the dessert and felt a little deflated; especially given the rest of the meal had been so superb.
It wasn’t the only thing that bugged me about my meal at Galvin la Chapelle either; there were no petite four presented at the end of the meal. It’s possible that I’ve become spoiled, but I cannot remember the last time I want to a Michelin starred restaurant and didn’t get the small bite sized sweets at the end.
To be honest, my complaints were relatively minor. I ate the soufflé to completion and didn’t really miss the petite four too much. Service was good overall and there was a real buzz in the restaurant that was quite enjoyable. I was completely captivated by the setting and the beauty of the interior of the renovated chapel; the classic arch of the glass windows looking particularly beautiful.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Galvin La Chapelle was located right in the heart of a developing area of London, with heaps of new restaurants and bars; I would frequent the area again a little later on my visit to check out the laneways and markets and check out a delicious little donut shop.
But, that’s a story for another time!