Monday, 25 July 2011

Galoupet, Knightsbridge

Firstly, a public apology: when our waitress told us straight-faced that Galoupet's offering of small plates to share was a 'unique concept', I laughed out loud and reeled off a list of other places where this could be done, like the worst kind of restaurant-collecting tosser. It was an awful, Onanistic thing to do and I wouldn't for a second have blamed her if she'd tipped my (superb) Pink Basiltini cocktail over my head and had me thrown out. That she didn't, and in fact proceeded to provide unfailingly polite and enthusiastic service for the rest of the night, is to her enormous credit. Mea maxima culpa.

Whether it's entirely unique or not, the menu 'concept' (why does everywhere have to have a 'concept' nowadays?) at Galoupet - a new wine bar/restaurant/shop on Beauchamp Place from the Chateau of the same name - is a very appealing one. Fifteen dishes, most available in a small or large size, are offered in a simple list, in the order in which the kitchen thinks they are likely to be most enjoyed - so salads come first, followed by fish, finishing with some meat dishes.

For every dish there's a suggested wine pairing, served in a 125ml measure, this large variety of by-the-glass options made possible by the use of Enomatic wine storage machines. You don't have to have the suggested wine; the intriguing list offers another twenty or so varieties, including (of course) those from the Galoupet estate itself. The flexibility is there to order lots of small plates to share, each with a different wine, or stick to a conventional starter-main-dessert-and-bottle-of-wine-between-us configuration.

 As is more-often-than-not the case when I eat out in Knightsbridge, I took with me my best friend, SW3-based stylist-to-the-stars Anders, who's always keen to find new places to recommend to his affluent clientele. Happily, Galoupet goes straight onto his list as it's really, eye-openingly good. The cuisine is loosely Mediterranean, with some unusual Asian touches; it's not 'fusion' but the result is genuinely unlike anything I can remember trying elsewhere.

First up was a 'seasonal dip' - for summer that means red pepper, Pecorino and sorrel - with olive oil crisp bread. We had fun scooping up the thick pepper purée; topped with the finely grated cheese and scattered with sorrel it was very moreish, which alas added to our slight sense of disappointment that there wasn't rather more of it. Next we tried two salads, and if the first - heritage tomato and shiso with pepper dressing - suffered from being bland, the same could not be said for the second, a combination of figs, fregola, purple basil, orange, konbu and hazelnut which genuinely thrilled us with its mix of brilliant tastes and textures.

Our two fish dishes also delivered one hit and one miss and I take full responsibility for the latter. Stone bass and burnt tomatoes should have come also with coriander but, because of my cilantrophobia, the chef experimentally substituted a red pepper coulis for the evil herb. The resulting combination lacked punch and felt timid; loathe it as I do, I could see the role the coriander should have played. Much better was mackerel with purple potatoes, pistachio, mint and the gloriously-described diamante citron - candied lemon to you and me. This ingredient's sweet but still discernibly citrusy flavour and grainy texture accentuated the salty fish, earthy potatoes, aromatic mint and crunchy nuts which made up the rest of the dish; it was colourful, pretty and, I scribbled down simply, 'brilliant'

Finally for the savoury courses came two meat dishes which were the stand-out successes of the whole meal. Norfolk White free-range chicken with miso, peach and ginger was a fat quarter bird, marinaded in miso and ginger and roasted until just cooked so as to remain moist and sweet. The peach element was a thick chutney which provided just a little welcome tartness. Best of the lot though was a fabulous, zingy Thai-inspired dish of O'Shea's onglet steak with mandarin, peanuts and papaya. The blend and balance of ingredients was well-judged and just very clever; I would (and will) go back for this dish alone.

Desserts too were exceptionally good. A moist pistachio, vanilla and olive oil cake with vanilla ice cream was delightful; free from flour, eggs and butter it felt, said Anders alliteratively, "healthy and hearty". More indulgent - and therefore perfectly suited to my taste - was a slice of frozen Ecuadorean chocolate ganache, dusted in shaved chocolate and served with lavender, blueberries and some crunchy meringues. These were not cooked, we were told, but dehydrated, a technique which gave them an intriguing slight saltiness which cut through the sweet richness of the chocolate.

We drank, I'll admit, rather a lot of the very good wines on offer, including a lovely slightly chilled Sangiovese, a buttery, Chardonnay-like Insolia and both our favourite, a bright, apple-y Grosset Off Dry Riesling. The staff have obviously been very thoroughly drilled on the wines so that in effect every one of them is a sommelier. A note of caution though - to diners and the restaurant - is that with most dishes only being quite small, often the pace of the food did not keep up with the service of wine, such that on a couple of occasions a dish or glass had been finished before we received the wine or food which ideally would have accompanied it.

Service otherwise was excellent, our waitress undaunted by my idiot behaviour at the start of the meal, although she and others seemed at times rather too interested in what we thought of everything to the point that concerned questioning risked tipping over into intrusive interrogation. This could have been nerves - the place has barely been open a fortnight and is still finding its feet - but could make diners less inclined than we to voice their opinions feel harassed and hurried. That would be a shame, as the room - long and light, all pale blond wood, polished bronze and copious mirrors - is beautifully done and deserves to be lingered in.

Overall I thought Galoupet was pretty damn good. The concept is, if not unique, then certainly innovative and the food is exciting and genuinely felt new - if anyone's had Mediterranean sharing plates with Asian accents anywhere else then do please correct me. What's more, despite being in London's most expensive borough, it's actually very reasonably priced; we were guests of Galoupet for this meal but to give you an idea, wines start at just £4.10 for a 125ml glass and the most expensive dish on the menu is only £12.50, so it's a restaurant within everyone's reach.

Many have reached it already - on a miserable wet Wednesday night, business was brisk and the place was buzzing. I recommend you get along and experience it for yourself sooner rather than later; Galoupet has 'hit' written all over it.

Galoupet, 13 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1NQ Tel: 020 7036 3600

Galoupet on Urbanspoon

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