In amongst the tall, cold glass and steel buildings of The City, a stone’s throw from Spitalfields Market and Liverpool Street station is Galvin La Chapelle; so-called because it is housed in a grade II-listed Victorian parish hall. The Galvin brothers, who also lend their name to the restaurant, opened La Chapelle (their third restaurant venture) in 2009 and just over a year later it gained a Michelin star, which has been retained ever since.
So, it was with this intimidating knowledge that we arrived at Galvin La Chapelle on a chilly autumnal evening. But on arrival our apprehensions soon thawed as we were warmly greeted like old friends. After handing in our coats, the front of house staff led us to our table. Weaving passed couples enjoying a romantic evening and friends catching up we followed our waiter, looking up at the fantastic beamed ceiling, gawping and trying not to bump in to other tables on the way to our own. Despite the dining room’s cavernous size and its religious past, it still manages to be a warm and intimate place. We chose from the London Restaurant Festival menu and each ordered a flute of Galvin Grande Reserve champagne to enjoy while we anticipated the arrival of our starters.
Our first starter arrived and, while the layers of quail and foie gras may have had the appearance of marble slabs, the pressé was light and well balanced. The quail, which has a stronger taste than chicken, was tender and complemented the salty pancetta and rich foie gras. The dish was finished with an array of accompaniments; the lightly poached quail’s egg had a lovely gooey yolk adding richness to the dish, while the whipped apple, pomegranate segments and striking molasses drizzles by turn lent fresh acidity and sticky sweetness.
Unfortunately, the photo doesn’t quite do this dish justice as I couldn’t snap a picture quick enough before the cool, creamy almond gazpacho was poured over it. But underneath the surface sits a fresh heritage tomato salad sprinkled with black specks of oven-dried olives and peppery cress. Toasted pine nuts added some crunch while the smooth mounds of whipped goats’ curd merged with the bread-thickened gazpacho releasing waves of unexpected tanginess.
I was unfamiliar with the term pavé, but apparently it is derived from the French word for ‘cobblestone’ and so the beautifully cooked flaking cod was encrusted with toasted parmesan hazelnut ‘cobbles.’ Cod is quite a sturdy fish, so the salty crunch of the pavé was a great addition and added texture to an otherwise smooth dish. Bright green leaves and peas interposed the mellow cauliflower purée and golden brown girolles.
The favourite main though was the beautifully tender roast Cumbrian chateaubriand. The juicy cut was cooked rare and served with a daub of sweet roast onion purée, a rich truffle pomme mousseline, toasted bone marrow and smoky artichoke.
Our first dessert, a Black Forest gâteau, arrived deconstructed and looking far more sophisticated than the seventies version. The cake looked like a mirror-glazed Tunnock’s tea cake, but inside was a light and incredibly chocolatey sponge, which was accompanied by 3 types of cherry. Sweet halves of fresh cherry, jazzy stripes of cherry coolie and a cherry sorbet served as delicious palate cleansers for all the rich chocolatiness.
But it was the other classic seventies dessert that won us over; soufflé. It may have arrived at our table impressively tall, but it was soon decimated to a smudge at the bottom of the ramekin. Inside the light crust was an autumnal whirl of comforting goo and fresh, sweet blackberries. We paused only to draw breath and to try a scoop of the milk ice cream.
With food and service like this it’s not hard to see why La Chapelle won a Michelin star in its first year of opening. Saying that I’m probably preaching to the choir, although something you may not know is that unlike the multitude of well-known chefs with restaurants sporting their name on the door, Jeff Galvin really does spend most of his time running the kitchen at La Chapelle. So if that doesn’t convert you, then you’ll need more than fantastic food in a former church to give you a faith lift.