The Galvin brothers really struck gold with when they opened Galvin La Chapelle, on the fringes of Spitalfields Market, at the end of 2009. Architectural gems with this much theatrical wow factor rarely become vacant a stone’s throw from the gleaming blue-chip spires of Broadgate Circus. And here’s a gem and then some. This lavish cathedral to bonus-spree City dining is the old 19th-century school and parish hall of St Botolph's, saved from the developer’s wrecking ball by local residents and alumni who chained themselves to its front door. Now it’s Jeff Galvin’s HQ, serving some of the most refined and considered French cooking in town. It’s also one of the most dramatic, and beautiful, dining rooms in London.
The space is a mix of original, faintly distressed elements as well as meticulous restoration and some modern flash in the form of plush leather dining chairs, ecclesiastical halogen chandeliers and a glass and steel half-mezzanine. Lighting is sombre and warm. While the crowd is predominantly suited and booted, on ELLEuk's visit, Gilbert & George were sitting at the next table, and George came over to make mischief with the waiter who wheeled our cheese trolley over. This might be the City’s favourite neighbourhood canteen, but let’s not forget that we’re Shoreditch-adjacent too…
There’s a tasting menu of seven courses (£70, or £105 with wine pairings), but some of the dishes are so stand-out that it’s worth ditching the Gourmand Menu’s terrine and slightly anaemic ewe’s cheese (instead, get that cheese trolley over, it’s packed full of fabulous things from La Fromagerie and Androuet) and ordering the full-sized larger versions of the signature dishes. The risotto of fresh peas and parmesan is notably salty but still fresh, the crunch of its peas spring-like and exciting. A rotund lasagna of Dorset crab and beurre nantais is a rich, emolliant dairy delight while the tagine of Bresse pigeon with cous cous, aubergine purée and harissa sauce is the most exciting explosion of pure flavour on the menu.
If you’ve left a long weekend in Marrakech wishing that even the finest of restaurants had reined in their generosity with sugar and spices, then come here. This is the tagine of your dreams: refined but still huge on taste. Harissa - with chilli and rose - is one of those condiments no fridge should ever be without. To finish, the apple tarte tatin was another wonder – sticky, not overly sweet, with mouth-tinglingly moreish sour notes from a side of crème fraîche. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a pudding person, this is something else entirely.
Service at Galvin La Chapelle is military-regimented and pitch-perfect, although we rather wish that wines by the glass were poured at the table rather than ferried, ready, from the bar. It’s also a shame that there isn’t a larger bar, for a more casual visit to the space. That said, the Galvin’s sibling bistro and oyster bar, Café a Vin, is connected by a glass door, and has one of the most beautiful pewter bars (which used to reside at the Great Eastern before its ill-advised removal) in the city. While we’ll be back for the risotto and tagine at La Chapelle, we’ll also be dropping by next door on a regular basis to hop on a stool for a dozen oysters and a glass of Champagne. It’s all too good to leave to the City boys.
The ELLEuk Score
Style of food: French
Good for: Quick bite after work; Special occasion; First date; Romantic; Group dinner; Work lunch/dinner
Prices and other Details at Galvin La Chapelle
Address: 35 Spital Square, City of London, E1 6DY
Opening times: 12pm-2.30pm Mon-Sun; 6pm-10.30pm Mon-Sat (9.30pm Sun).
Average price per person for two-course meal without wine: £35
Set menu: £25.50 (three courses, lunch) and £29.50 (three courses, dinner, 6pm-7pm).
Price of bottle of house wine: £23, Gaillac Sec, Chateau Clément Termes 2010 (white) and £22, Ribatejo, Pinhal de Torre, Nova Safra 2008 (red).
Price of glass of house wine: £6 (white) and £5.75 (red), as above.
Price of bottle of house champagne: £47
Price of glass of house champagne: £11, NV Galvin Grande Reserve.
Private dining? Yes, on the mezzanine for up to 16 people
Garden/al fresco dining? No
Best table? The two tables closest to the centre of the ground floor, one row of tables away from the kitchen – they give the best perspective on the whole room.
Bar? Yes, there’s a bar for non-diners.
Who goes? Predominantly local business types, with a smattering of dressed-up Shoreditch types.
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street.