A top-quality Galvin brothers ‘bistro de luxe’-style operation, in a wonderful Shoreditch building whose scale and location arguably call for something a little less traditional; for City suits, though, it looks set to be a ‘wow’.
Chris and Jeff Galvin are heroes of the restaurant scene. The quality and value of the Gallic bistro fare at their flagship, the eponymous Marylebone ‘bistro de luxe’, has made it a benchmark. Under their tenancy, the ‘Windows’ dining room on the 28th floor of the Park Lane Hilton no longer trades exclusively on its impressive view.
No wonder their ambitious conversion of this Victorian school chapel in Shoreditch – into a restaurant and brasserie – has been so keenly awaited.
First impressions of the main room are encouraging. Feeling like a sort of cross between the Wolseley and a medieval barn, this is undoubtedly one of London’s few ‘wow’ dining spaces.
A new half-mezzanine, however, (though elegantly done, in itself) does rather reduce the impact. And for a place which is potentially so clearly ‘different’, it felt rather odd to us to have staff dressed as if at Le Gavroche.
It quickly becomes clear that, despite the dramatic and interesting setting and the still ‘edgy’ location, this is as traditional a French restaurant as you’ll find in London.
Any doubts on this front are laid to rest by the menu, which is totally devoid of surprise in either presentation or content.
That’s not in any sense to imply that you will not eat very well indeed here (and at notably reasonable prices too). From the set lunch menu, an escabeche of red mullet was exemplary, and a boudin noir with caramelised apples and creamed potatoes was pretty much perfection (if arguably too generous).
Similarly, it was difficult to see how a pear tarte Tatin (the pudding of which the kitchen is apparently most proud) could have been done much better. From the carte, a guest much approved her starter of scallops and Noirmoutiers potatoes, and a perfect pavé of halibut.
The only real downside on the food front was bread: slices of not very interesting pain de campagne.
In the first days, the service managed to be both a touch too slow and, our guest thought, rather too grand and solicitous. There were still some oddities to be ironed out too: the sommelier, for example, did not seem to understand our bemusement that many 250ml wine carafes come at twice the price of a 175ml glass of the same wine.
Such quirks will no doubt be resolved. What’s less likely to go away, however, is our feeling that an opportunity to create a real ‘statement’ restaurant, gearing up on the extraordinary space, has not fully been realised. Is the wrapping not just too enticing and interesting for content in such tried-and-tested style?
That’s easy enough to say, of course. In current market conditions, proceeding with the venture at all was bravery enough. We have little doubt that crowds of City suits will quickly validate it.