Galvins open a temple to fine food

<strong>Galvin La Chapelle</strong><br />35 Spital Square, E1 6DY, tel: 020 7299 0400<br />FOOD<br />SERVICE<br />ATMOSPHERE<br />Cost per person without wine: &pound;50<br /><br />THE Galvin brothers first struck gold with their close-to-perfect Bistrot De Luxe in Baker Street, which fused rusticity with the fineness of serious French cuisine. Then they took over Windows at the Park Lane Hilton, turning it into a restaurant respected as much for its food as for its spectacular views, with a glamorous but well-priced menu. Now they appear to have hit the nail on the head again, with a restaurant that feels both zeitgeisty and sturdy.<br /><br />La Chapelle is clearly a labour of love &ndash; the brothers spent over a year converting it from its original form as a derelict, Grade II-listed building called St Botolph&rsquo;s Hall &ndash; originally a girls&rsquo; school &ndash; into a sleek cathedral-like, split-level restaurant. Adjacent to the fine dining room is a bistro called Caf&eacute; de Luxe with Julian Opie paintings of sexy ladies on the wall and a buzzy, less formal vibe. It was full of young-ish people eating the likes of herring with potatoes, and bavette steak. <br /><br />La Chapelle is French, of course, but deviates from time to time, such as with the Moorish pigeon with harissa dish, and with the wide and inexpensive array of cocktails (&pound;7 a pop) which are more &ldquo;happy hour&rdquo; than elite French restaurant. These quirks are fun &ndash; they&rsquo;re refreshing at what could be yet another fine dining French restaurant. <br /><br />However, there were some surprising imperfections on our visit. Service makes a meal, and this largely Italian crew seemed inexperienced. &ldquo;Do you know what you want?&rdquo; was chirped at all the wrong times; when I did want something they were nowhere to be seen. <br /><br />But to dwell on what I can only presume are teething problems would be a little dour of me. There was a delightful atmosphere; the place was full of foodies &ndash; from the suited brigade (Liverpool Street is round the corner) to younger creative types &ndash; industriously ploughing their way through the appealing menu and glugging wine from the big list. It&rsquo;s a very attractive dining room, too &ndash; on par with Chris Galvin&rsquo;s earlier stomping ground The Wolseley, but more restrained. Deep brown banquettes, a glittering Christmas tree, an open kitchen, antique mirrors and a scarlet leather wine list lend it a wintry opulence, made elegant by the vast airiness of the space.<br /><br /><strong>ECSTATIC HIGHS</strong><br />The food had ecstatic highs and one big, and important, low. But first, salad of wood-fired autumn vegetables, walnut and goat&rsquo;s cheese was a playful and refreshing combination of artichokes, beetroot and soft, wet globes of goat&rsquo;s cheese. The veloute of Potimarron pumpkin with chestnuts and ceps was completely delicious and will be a benchmark for all other winter veloutes &ndash; to which I am certain few others will measure up. It was sweet, warming and rich, silkily poured over the chestnuts and funghi.<br /><br />For mains, we wanted venison, but it was sold out, so we thought we&rsquo;d take the plunge and go for the cote de boeuf for two, something we took to be a sure bet for a serious bistro like this one. Whoops. It was disappointing in a big way &ndash; the face of my beef-loving partner fell as we took the first bite of a very chewy piece of meat, which was dry, and left relatively untouched by its thick gravy &ndash; &ldquo;Hermitage jus&rdquo;. The best part of the dish &ndash; which was artfully presented, carved by the table and set with a little dish of stunning marrow alongside &ndash; was the truffle macaroni. That&rsquo;s not ideal for a beef dish costing &pound;53. <br /><br />Dinner returned to form with dessert: an intense blueberry souffl&eacute; with lovely milk ice cream (souffl&eacute;s are everywhere in London at the moment) and a stunning and very wide selection of cheese &ndash; the Morbier was particularly superb. The wine list will have something to suit every taste and it&rsquo;s reasonably priced. There&rsquo;s no doubt the Galvins are on to a winner &ndash; it just needs a few readjustments to deserve its hype.<br /><br /><strong>IN A NUTSHELL:</strong><br />Sleek new operation from London&rsquo;s favourite (British) French chefs in a stunning cathedral-like space. Service &ndash; and beef &ndash; were a bit rocky, but should improve.