Galvin La Chapelle is in a really striking building, the Victorian St Bidolph’s Hall, originally a girl’s school that had become neglected, but is now beautifully restored. The vaulting ceiling and skylights help to create a most impressive space for dining. There is also an adjoining bar and café – Café de Luxe.
The wine list stretches to 20 pages, and although heavily oriented to France, gives some global coverage in addition. The excellent Mas de Daumas Gassac 1997 red was listed at a tolerable £99 given its retail price of around £43; long gone are the days when I used to buy this lovely wine for around £8 before it was “discovered”. Chateau Talbot 2001 was more heavily marked up at £220 for a wine that can easily be bought for around £60. In the New World section of the list, Shaw & Smith M3 Chardonnay 2008 was £54 for a wine that costs around £15 to buy in the shops. As is fitting given the restaurant’s name, Hermitage La Chapelle is highlighted with an extensive range of vintages including the great 1961, though this costly wine is likely to appeal only to investment bankers celebrating a vast deal.
As with the other Galvin ventures, the menu is easy on the eye, with British and French dishes that do not involve any wacky ingredient combinations. The prices have already jumped significantly in price since opening (thanks to DG for pointing this out). At the time of writing starters average over £10, main courses £20, desserts £8, but at least there are no sneaky extra charges for vegetables. Dorset crab lasagne featured fresh-tasting crab and capable pasta, topped with a little salad (14/20). A salad of wood-fired autumn vegetables (featuring a disproportionate amount of beetroot), goat cheese and walnuts was pleasant, the leaves dressed properly (14/20).
Venison was nicely cooked, served on a bed of red cabbage and some cooking juices (14/20). Tarte tatin had good pastry and the apples were properly caramelised (maybe a touch more than I would have liked), but this was certainly an above-average tart tatin (15/20). Orange parfait was delicate, resting on a sablé biscuit and with a garnish of Seville orange segments (14/20). Quite what a blueberry soufflé was doing on the menu in February is a mystery only the pastry chef can answer.
Service from dinner-jacketed waiting staff was efficient during much of the meal, but then fell apart once we had finished our desserts. Despite being near a waiter station, efforts to attract attention to get coffee, and later the bill, were far from trivial; it was as if we had become invisible the moment we finished eating. Despite a trail of waiters scurrying past, all attempts to get attention failed until my dining companion, anxious to get the last train home, had to resort to physically tapping a waitress on the arm as she sailed past. This was curious given that the service had been perfectly capable earlier.
Overall Galvin La Chapelle is sure to be highly successful, with an appealing menu of capably cooked dishes in a genuinely beautiful dining room.