Getting ready for Christmas and slammed at work, I am once again becoming lackadaisical with T.F.T. Like I said last time, it will not happen again. Catching Omicron has helped me focus my mind on writing.
Lying in bed one night this week, idle, not indisposed, and reading, not writing, I happened across Geraldine DeRuiter, whose food blog is doing a lot better than my own. In a recent post, which has since gone viral, she writes at length about a seemingly horrific tasting menu experience at the one Michelin starred Bros’ in Lecce, Italy. In a couple of many
highlights lowlights, DeRuiter speaks of “…something that I can only describe as ‘an oyster loaf that tasted like Newark airport’”, and being made to lick a citrus foam out of a plaster cast of the chef’s mouth.
The write-up got me thinking. I’ve been to El Celler de Can Roca three times. The restaurant holds three Michelin stars and has been voted best in the world more than once. It’s obviously eye-wateringly expensive. The last time I went, it sucked. I’ve often said that stars and reputation is never a barometer of success, and since that last fateful visit to Girona, The European and I have vowed to take it a little easier on spunking cash on such places. A couple of months after we made that vow, we ended up at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester.
Nevertheless, her highness spotted a good-looking deal via TheFork, a kind of Groupon-style website for foodies. Galvin La Chappelle was calling, with a lovely discount on their signature ‘Gourmand’ seven course tasting menu. Like Bros’, La Chapelle has a Michelin star. Unlike DeRuiter, we enjoyed a great meal with our choice. Scratch that, when we staggered out four hours later, we agreed that this it was one of the culinary highlights of our lives so far, and an unexpected one at that.
So serious pre-drinking helped. We had spent the afternoon celebrating the Saudi Arabian F1 qualifying and then had remained in the pub drinking beer and watching the England / South Africa rugby match. By the time we arrived at La Chappelle, we were, um, ‘merry’.
Our beer goggles took in the cavernous, vaulted ceilings and marbled elegance of the restaurant, which once used to be the chapel of a girls’ school just off Bishopsgate. Wine trolleys and P.D.Q. machines nestled between stone columns, and comfy leather seating are arranged along snug cloisters. The toilets – which I visited frequently, thanks to the few too many Beavertowns – are elevated, and the walkway outside offers a stunning panoramic view of this beautiful setting.
The menu is glorious in its fluff but contains nothing controversial. Words like “fromage”, “foie gras”, “truffled”, “slow cooked”, and “mousse” speak our language. We read it and knew we were going to get a voluptuous meal.
The first impressions and service sometimes ossify these warm and fuzzy anticipatory feelings. Having ordered the wine paring (which was faultless), we were paired with a kooky sommelier who was incredible in his knowledge and aminated, giddy enthusiasm for all things of the vine. His descriptions of the wine were encyclopaedic and entertaining. The choices were brilliantly creative; for example, we received a white Port with the first course, a velouté of Puy lentils, white cheese, and bacon.
The menu took us on an odyssey of rich, classic French cookery. No course was less than excellent. The velouté and the following course of foie gras pressed with chicken were essentially a very, very good soup and an amazing terrine. The follow course, a cep and truffle risotto, was stolen in front of my very eyes by The European who, having tried a mouthful while I was sniffing the accompanying Baglio Antico Cataratto, a gorgeous Sicilian orange wine, decided that it was too good to be wasted on me.
La Chapelle’s signature dish, the lasagne of Dorset crab, is far lighter than you might think, helped along by a cloudlike scallop mousse, together acquiring a unfathomably rich yet airy quality. Less complex was the main course of Cumbrian beef and potato, slow cooked to new heights, chauffeured by the biggest of beg reds, a Château La Tour By Médoc. Fair is fair; I got some of The European’s beef, so all is fair in love and butter.
Bringing up the rear was a generous slab of truffled Brie de Meaux (served with Galvin’s own Bourgogne Blanc and then an apple tarte Tatin. The brie was a work of art; the tarte Tatin was jarringly bitter but was the perfect end to what was a decadently rich meal.
We had eaten ourselves sober, as well as to breaking point. A couple of glasses of whisky at the end of the meal pushed us back to pickled giddiness. The long ride home, we raved about La Chapelle. The service, the food, the ambience, the everything. Pricewise, it was still expensive, but exceptional value for what you get. I don’t know how much it costs to eat in Bros’ (you don’t even get a menu when you’re there) but I’ll wager it was more than the £three hundred we paid in London for this magical evening of understated perfection. No plaster cast mould of Chris and Jeff Galvin’s mouths, but you can’t win them all.