Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Tidings of confit and joy

I've been trying to eat at Galvin for some time, but it's not easy. The Baker Street 'Bistrot De Luxe' has been going for months now, but thanks to some embarrassingly gushing reviews about its great food and unbelievably reasonable prices by Giles Coren et al, it's always fully booked.

So I decided to approach from another angle: lunch. One of the perks of being a journalist, and therefore having journalist friends, is that plenty of them work bizarre hours and days. So it was perfectly possible to assemble five of us in Baker Street at 1 o'clock: reformed bloggers Damo and Guttersniper, and Indy Man and Woman (look, I'm rubbish at thinking up witty and apposite pseudonyms, but they work for the Indy, so those will have to do.)

Even getting a table for lunch - lunch! on a Tuesday! - had been difficult. We were put on the reserve list, apparently, when IW called on Monday night. But clearly some dreadful businessman had closed the deal or whatever without the need for upmarket French bistro fare, because she got a call at half ten this morning saying a table was now ours.

First off, the restaurant looks good. The front door is suspiciously flush with the surrounding walls, leading me twice to peer into the lobby of the flats next door, until the presence of two security guards at a desk made me twig this wasn't the restaurant.

Inside, it's all dark wood panelling and mirrors. My only complaint is that in the eight-foot wide floor space between the two walls of banquettes, they've shoehorned in some tables for six that are clearly too big. If you sit at one of these (and we did) you are uncomfortably aware of the complicated balletic movements required of the waiters negotiating the dining room.

But this is the price of success - and it's pretty understandable success. The set lunch, at £15.50 for three courses, is about half the price of that at comparable restaurants. (My wet-dream gourmet lunch? Le Gavroche, at £43 including a half-bottle of wine.)

There were only two choices for each course, and either we're all shockingly alike or I must have started a trend, because we all ordered the same: Terrine of duck confit with lentil vinaigrette, followed by veal cheeks, macaroni and Marsala sauce.

Until, that was, the terrine arrived and Guttersniper espied a very prominent nut in it. He's allergic to the little buggers- in fact I was there the last time he had a reaction, and truly it was a sight to behold as his entire face swelled and he went a shade of puce more usually found on a Glaswegian alcoholic's nose.

We called the waiter. "Is this a nut?" he enquired, despite the fact that it was quite clearly a nut. "I will find zis out," parried the waiter (did I mention all the waiters are authentically French? A touch of class.) Of course it was a bloody nut. Impasse. "Well, I can't eat it," remarked Guttersniper. "I'll be sick all over the table."

This seemed to galvanise our waiter into action, and a Jerusalem artichoke soup was swiftly substituted. I'd earlier decided against this option on the grounds I didn't know what a Jerusalem artichoke was. I asked. "Well," said Damo, expansively. "It's not actually an artichoke. It's a tuber." The others nodded sagely. "And it looks like one of those vegetables Esther Rantzen used to show on That's Life."

"Great," I snapped, "all very useful if I get asked about it in a quiz, but what does it taste like?" The table fell silent.

Sadly, by the time the soup arrived I was already face-down in my duck terrine and in no position to appreciate its tuberous goodness. The terrine arrived in a slab, with stripes - oh joy of joys - of foie gras. The duck meat was all earthy and vigorous like it should be, but intercutting it with almost wrongly rich foie gras was a masterstroke. The two complemented each other perfectly, and I fell upon it with disgusting degustatory enthusiasm.

The veal cheeks were less successful. Everyone else snacked theirs back, so I can only conclude that either my portion was unusually salty, or everyone else has a higher tolerance of it than I do. The jus reduction business tasted too much like neat Balsamic vinegar for my liking. However, the cheek itself was done to perfection - practically falling apart. Sorry that you died young, baby cow, but at least it was worth it. The pasta tubes were slightly redundant, but decorative.

Pudding choices were Brie de Meaux with walnut bread or Tiramisu. All of us plumped for Brie, except Nutboy. A big hunk of cheese duly arrived. It wasn't as oozy or as noxious as I'd hoped, and frankly was too much for a lunchtime. We had a minor disagreement about the bread. Damo said the fruit detracted from the cheese. The Indies disagreed. I found it hard to get worked up about the bread question, as I was still whimpering from the terrifying interrogation over my single status between courses.

Other bits: the wine was very good, and very reasonably priced. Our double espressos were exemplary. The service was slightly supercilious, but that's French waiters for you. Oh, oh, the toilets. I must tell you about the toilets. They were lovely - even more wood, funky door bits, ambient lighting. Even if the food were crap, it would be worth going to see the toilets.

Luckily, it's not, and I'd love to go back to eat a la carte. I've got my eye on the Salad of Dorset Crab and Apple, Feuillete of Angus beef, etuvee of leek & Bourguignonne garnish (what's an etuvee?) and then Oeuf a la neige, which would still set you back just under £30 before service.

£30? The owners must be mad. No wonder it was fully booked on a Tuesday lunchtime.


Anonymous Laura said...

You are the only person who i believe would actually go back somewhere based on the toilets. I still remember you waxing lyrical about the LMH ball toilets, and trying to get me to go, as though it was part of the fairground rides.

4/25/2006 10:05 pm  
Anonymous paul haine said...

A good toilet is always worth returning to. The Kasbar in Oxford has some great ones, all Moroccan themed with big copper sinks and strange teapots dangling in the air as counterweights to the doors. I could spend hours in them, and not just because I have the bladder of a moth.

4/25/2006 10:47 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

What? You can tell a lot about a place by the toilets. Those at St John are, for example, functional but minimalist, like the food. The ones at the Blue Elephant resemble some kind of Eastern brothel.

Can't say I know the Kasbar in Oxford – Where is it? I do remember the bogs in Po Na Na being quite nice, all mosaics and glass.

On a toilet-related note, I notice the Mail still uses 'lavatory' despite no less a personage than Charles Moore decreeing that 'toilet' is now acceptable. (Seriously, it was an actual article in the Spectator.) It'll be 'serviette' next.

4/25/2006 11:33 pm  
Blogger leflange said...

Cowley I think. Little Bay toilets rule.

4/26/2006 9:26 am  
Anonymous lb said...

I always heard great things about the toilets at Loungelover, but they weren't anything to write home about.

Cocktails were reassuringly expensive, though. Christ! You need an extra drink just to take in the bill.

4/26/2006 10:20 am  
Blogger galatea said...

Taking it a step further, this review is entirely about toilets.

"Once you have found the correct loo for your gender, the real fun begins."


Pondering on this subject, I have realised how upset the practice of thinking up 'cute' alternatives to Men and Women notices makes me. I have seen some ridiculous ones in my time, including "Stags" and "Hinds", and various apparently ungendered cartoon-esque pictures.

Perhaps the time has come to give unisex toilets a chance?

God, no. What am I saying? It would be like Ally McBeal, and no-one wants that.

4/26/2006 2:02 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

This piece invites the public at large to air their views on unisex toilets.

"I think we should adopt a Japanese style "stream" of running water that man, woman and child can squat over. Additionally closed-circuit cameras can be installed and televise activities in the working area. This to satisfy the voyeur in us all."
Andrew, US

4/26/2006 2:05 pm  
Anonymous Laura said...

I don't mind unisex toilets but they're rubbish if you're drunk. Not only do you get thoroughly confused, but it means that wailing females have absolutely no refuge at all. It's already hard enough trying to convince people to go back outside when they're upset, imagine what would happen if pissed men were yelling at them mid-whinging....

4/26/2006 7:13 pm  
Anonymous paul haine said...

Unisex toilets always struck me as a bad idea only suited to destroying fledgling romances. Is it not enough to hve to put on nicer-than-usual clothes, nicer-than-usual aftershave, a nicer-than-usual personality, etc., without also having to worry about whether your potential-partner in the next cubicle can hear you straining away?

4/26/2006 10:40 pm  
Anonymous lb said...

Plenty of places in Hoxditch are now doing the unisex toilet thing, which I suppose makes them "edgy", or "inconvenient" as I prefer to put it.

If they bother with separate toilets at all then they're usually distinguished by some incomprehensible graffito. Not that it matters either way as the cubicles are usually occupied by about ten people stuffing charlie up their nostrils. London, eh?

I've been to Busaba and it took me a good five seconds of Krypton Factor-style logical puzzling to work out which door to go through.

4/27/2006 12:28 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

The weirdest toilet phenomenon I've ever encountered is at OFS in Oxford. In the ladies', they had these weird cubicles with two actual toilets. They were huge!

I just didn't get it - I mean, I like my female friends a lot, but I can bear to be parted from them for the few minutes it takes to go to the loo.

4/28/2006 12:13 pm  

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