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Apr 19, 2013 10:22 AM

[London, E1] Galvin La Chapelle

If I ran a restaurant, I think I’d like it to be in a superb old building like the chapel that’s now La Chapelle. I’d also have a very simple policy about how tables were allocated. Basically, it would give the best tables to the customers who booked first. La Chapelle works to different criteria which is why, although having booked well over a month ago, we got the worst table in the restaurant. That’s the one next to the pass, so just about every waiter bangs into your chair every time they collect anything. And you’re very aware of the conversations going on between chefs and servers. That’s the same table that’s also next to the main servers’ station so, when they are not having conversations with the kitchen, you’re very aware of their chit-chat with each other about what they’re planning to do on their next day off, and the like. Of course, when staff are as far up their own arses as this crew, then you know that customers are a mere hindrance.

You can see we were a tad unthrilled. The food sort of makes up for things. But only sort of. Our evening could have been much pleasanter.

As to the food, to start, there was a “lasagne” of crab. This was a very delicate crab mousse, interleaved between sheets of pasta. It was, to my taste, too delicate and it needed more oomph from somewhere. More crab might have been a good start. The scattering of pea shoots and the beurre Nantais (a butch version of beurre blanc) helped a little but not enough.

Over the other side of the table, one and half scallops sat on the now ubiquitous cauliflower puree. It was a good puree and the scallops were perfectly cooked. Lifting this dramatically was a little pork belly and, most interestingly, a soft cooked prune.

For mains, we both went with the night’s specials. Firstly, fillets of John Dory topped a slick of pomme puree. Tiny mushrooms and samphire provided a texture contrast and there was a belter of a seafood foam. The other plate featured Iberico pork, cooked to medium rare and absolutely delicious. The slices topped polenta – perhaps a tad overly wet and, certainly, overly salty. Contrast here came from morels and asparagus. The Madiera jus was another belter.

It was then on to what we both reckoned was the best course.

A coffee parfait was bang-on for flavour and texture. Really well crafted. On top was a sprinkle of chocolate “crumbs” and, surrounding it, a little berry compote and a lovely almond flavoured milk foam.

The other dessert was a just as good – a mascarpone cheesecake. Small chunks of perfectly poached, and not overly sharp, rhubarb cut through the richness. And a little scattering of lemon balm leaves carried on the “cutting through” theme.

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  1. It's the clogs John - never wear them south of Stafford...! I have started to adopt a Michael Winner habit of choosing my own table if I am given a bad one and there is a better one unoccupied. It often causes consternation amongst the staff but I have yet to be put back on my original one.

    1 Reply
    1. re: PhilD

      Yeah, you're probably right, Phil. And we had the whippet with us. And the flat cap.

      I'm also more than happy to be Winneresque about tables - but the place was heaving, mainly with "international suits", so no opportunity.

      I think what also pissed me off was the restaurant manager's response when I later asked what their allocation policy was. There was nothing of the "was there a problem, sir?" but he launched straight into a spiel that they allocate tables firstly on party size (yes, I knew that, I am not a fuckwit), then if they have regulars who have a preference and then he just mumbled on about how some people like to be sat next to the pass *(yes, they are the fuckwits of which I am not one).

      (* I have no objection to being near the pass when I'm on my own - it's something to watch)

    2. I'd have expected the same, too, Harters - best tables to those who booked earliest, worst ones to walk-ins.

      1. I rarely have a dispute with Good Food Guide ratings.

        They have La Chapelle as 46th best restaurant in the country. No, it isn't.

        1. Well Harters, adding my comments about La Chappelle here rather than in the Rocket thread where you pointed me to this thread. I was underwhelmed with lunch at Galvin La Chappelle Spitalfields this week. I saw the table where you were seated, and it was separated from the pass though by a short wall, but I can see where the proximity to waitstaff conversations would be distracting. Our banquet table opposite the pass through was fine enough, but the table covering went clear to the floor, making it difficult to slide in and out of it as I got tangled a bit in the linens. This was a tad perplexing. The service was grand, until time to get the bill and that took half hour as seems to commonly occur when dining in London.

          I had the signature starter, the Lasagne of Dorset crab. It was quite nice, the pasta layers were delicate and tender, the crab plentiful. Like you though, I longed for a strong note, perhaps a scattering of green onions, but that may ruin the delicate intent of the dish for some.

          For the main, I ordered the fillet of wild sea bass marinière, with artichokes & mussels. The best of it was the 4 small mussels which were very nicely seasoned and tender. The sea bass was south of 3 ounces, but well cooked. The disappointing bit was that it was served below temp, having sat about a while, I assume. And at 27 quid, it was tiny food. All of it was. Out of our table of 6, 3 ordered the venison and I could see from the sad visages on some of the menfolk that the portions were unexpectedly small. Value is something I look for in all levels of dining.

          The wine list was extensive and it fell to me to pick a bottle for the table. I settled on a Rioja that was very nice. Upon inquiry, the waiter told our group that the structure was built in 1890 as a chapel as the name implies, but it was never used as a chapel. It was populated by a girl's school and abandoned in the 1950s, I think he said, and rescued from demolition by this restaurant group. The building is lovely as were the holiday decorations.

          So I guess my favorite dining place in this area remains St. John Bread and Wine. That is all!