The City now has its gastronomic jewel, if we are to believe current musings and schmoozings from the nation's well-regarded food critics. They have been waxing lyrical about the latest venture from those darlings of the restaurant trade, Chris and Jeff Galvin - Galvin La Chapelle near Spitalfields Market. Giles Coren's even planning to host his forthcoming wedding reception there, in the breathtakingly beautiful converted chapel space. Lucky chap. I'm guessing you have to be in with the brothers to pull that one off.
As the picture suggests, we dined not in the hallowed halls of fine dining, but 'round the back', in the casual French bistro/bar attached to the chapel, aptly named Galvin Café de Luxe (taking the 'de Luxe' name from the first Galvin establishment: Bistro de Luxe, on Baker St).
The Galvin team obviously put a lot of thought into the interior: the lighting, bar area, table settings, even the toilets (Ren products galore), are all high spec, creating an intimate yet lavish setting. The menu is textbook robust French with a touch of Neapolitan influence, and immediately reminded me of the more rough-and-ready Comptoir Gascon in Smithfield, featuring classics such as duck confit, pissaladière, steak tartare, escargots, and rhum baba.
Seeing a fellow diner poring over their precious 2nd issue of Fire & Knives magazine - a new quarterly, dedicated to food writing - was the first sign we were on to a good thing, then a basket of decent bread arrived, as did Tracey Emin, who sat quietly at the next table, to our surprise (I had expected her to be a loud, gregarious character, one of those larger-than-life gesticulators).
The meaty mains are at top-end bistro prices - all around £15. Preferring to graze, we chose the Endive salad with blood orange, olives, buffalo mozzarella and speck (on the side, so my vegetarian friend and I could share), and two Pissaladières with rocket garnish from the kitchen's wood oven. The crisp and chewy pissaladière crust was topped with perfectly balanced caramelized onion and salty anchovies, and the perky salad was dressed delicately. Both dishes, at around £7 each, were served in generous portions. My Pissaladière was so large I had to ask for a doggy bag, a happy sight for Jon when he opened the fridge the next morning.
Just two small criticisms: they could offer more from their wood oven, as the menu currently features only four options, and their tables could be a touch bigger - my clumsiness saw various items dropping to the floor, though they were graciously and speedily replaced by the smart and ever-so-slightly stiff waiters (owing to the proximity of the chapel, perhaps).
We shared a slice of Prune and walnut tart with vanilla ice cream (£5.50) to finish. Rich and treacly, with the gooey and satisfying texture of pecan pie, and boozy prunes, it compared favourably to the River Cafe's famous Prune and almond tart that I'd eaten the week before, and was considerably cheaper. Bistros, cafés and brasseries tend to suffer from lack of imagination when it comes to the closing credits of a menu, making do with familiar fare, but the Galvin brothers put the effort in and come up trumps.
Somehow, we managed to get away with spending just £15 each on dinner, though if you're going to delve into the impressive wine menu, and gorge on 3 courses, you'll be looking at a more hefty bill of £30-4o per person. Not café prices, indeed, but to get a taste of what next door has to offer, it's worth the price. We managed to get a glimpse of La Chapelle, chaperoned by a waiter who told us that weekdays get booked up far in advance, but weekends are much quieter: a tip for those of you keen to get in quick.
Hallelujah. The arrival of La Chapelle, and its casual offshoot, signals all is well on London's food map. They are keeping standards and expectations high, and pretenders/competitors on their toes. Now, I just need to muscle in on that wedding reception...