<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: £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 – the brothers spent over a year converting it from its original form as a derelict, Grade II-listed building called St Botolph’s Hall – originally a girls’ school – into a sleek cathedral-like, split-level restaurant. Adjacent to the fine dining room is a bistro called Café 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 (£7 a pop) which are more “happy hour” than elite French restaurant. These quirks are fun – they’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. “Do you know what you want?” 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 – from the suited brigade (Liverpool Street is round the corner) to younger creative types – industriously ploughing their way through the appealing menu and glugging wine from the big list. It’s a very attractive dining room, too – on par with Chris Galvin’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’s cheese was a playful and refreshing combination of artichokes, beetroot and soft, wet globes of goat’s cheese. The veloute of Potimarron pumpkin with chestnuts and ceps was completely delicious and will be a benchmark for all other winter veloutes – 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’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 – 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 – “Hermitage jus”. The best part of the dish – which was artfully presented, carved by the table and set with a little dish of stunning marrow alongside – was the truffle macaroni. That’s not ideal for a beef dish costing £53. <br /><br />Dinner returned to form with dessert: an intense blueberry soufflé with lovely milk ice cream (soufflés are everywhere in London at the moment) and a stunning and very wide selection of cheese – the Morbier was particularly superb. The wine list will have something to suit every taste and it’s reasonably priced. There’s no doubt the Galvins are on to a winner – it just needs a few readjustments to deserve its hype.<br /><br /><strong>IN A NUTSHELL:</strong><br />Sleek new operation from London’s favourite (British) French chefs in a stunning cathedral-like space. Service – and beef – were a bit rocky, but should improve.