Stephanie Brookes, BBC Radio London food expert, offers her pick of an eating establishment for this month, Galvin La Chapelle in Spitalfields.
I would estimate there are only a handful of restaurants around London that can truly claim to have the ‘wow’ factor. It’s a term which I use sparingly, and for those authentic jaw-agape moments that happen perhaps once or twice a year.
One such occasion was a recent visit to Galvin La Chapelle, a restaurant which immediately exceeds expectations on aesthetics alone. You instantly find yourself leaning back in awe at the magnificent vaulted ceilings of Grade 2 listed St. Botolph’s Hall. The building has a long and remarkable history and was originally built for the parish of Bishopsgate and the Central Foundation School for Girls in 1890. This unique location was the perfect backdrop for acclaimed chef brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin to further cement their stellar reputations. The restaurant hit the ground running since opening back in 2009 with a menu of classic French dishes: their immediate success even garnered its first Michelin star in 2011.
The awe-inspiring interior of Galvin La Chapelle - Photo copyright: Galvin La Chapelle
On our visit we were fortunate enough to be looked after by the superlative, maître d’hôtel Franco Becci. He was on hand to help with our every request. The menu was explained intimately and yet swiftly enough so that we weren’t waiting too long in eager anticipation.
To begin, we were served Pressed terrine of rabbit, ham hock and foie gras with an exquisite presentation of apple, quince and hazelnut. The smooth, marbled slice of terrine highlighted each individual meat component. The sweet and salty ham hock, earthy rabbit and the butter-soft foie gras was beautifully contrasted with the fresh tang of the crunchy apple and tart notes of quince. The dish was begrudgingly shared between two!
The highlight of the menu (for me) was the Tagine of Bresse pigeon, couscous, confit lemon and a side dish of harissa sauce. The skin of the meat had been perfectly rendered revealing the generously plump pigeon breast. Although pigeon meat is incredibly rich, it’s also deliciously tender and melted into the fluffy bed of nutty couscous. I appreciated the addition of the confit lemon which added a tangy, citrus note which cut through the gutsy, meaty flavours. A well thought out harissa sauce (on the side) meant I could add as much or as little to the dish. I’ve always been a fan of smoky, garlic flavours and the sauce successfully matched up to the overall richness of the dish.
The success of the main course meant I wasn’t exactly primed for dessert, yet on the rare occasion I spot Paris-Brest on the menu, it is an immediate “yes”. The last time I enjoyed this heavenly treat was actually in Paris, so not knowing the exact date of my next trip to the French capital, I was confident La Chapelle would do justice to this quintessentially French classic.
Paris-Brest - Photo copyright: Stephanie Brookes
The choux pastry had that distinctive crunch and sugary topping which it is famous for, with an oozing praline crème centre. The addition of the lusciously sweet blackcurrant was the ideal fruit accompaniment as the dessert instantly took me back to happy memories at my favourite Parisian patisserie.
For connoisseurs of true fine dining, Galvin La Chapelle goes above and beyond to create the most exciting restaurant experience. It’s that special kind of establishment where you feel your every culinary need is taken care of. I can think of no better restaurant to celebrate the festive season, or indeed kick-start the new year, in a place that has surely established itself as a true culinary icon.
essence infoGalvin La Chapelle
35 Spital Square, London E1 6DY
020 7299 0400