Alex Matchett samples the succulent treats of a resolute gastropub in the square mile – with a Michelin star heritage.
‘Functional’ is probably the best way to describe most City boozers. Weekdays will see them busy with a cast of the thirsty and suited – lager at noon and hold the food unless you can expense it, in which case it’s steak all round and chasers with the beer. Here be the spleen of the square mile: venting the stress of the day every evening in a raucous purge of pinstripes and pints.
So the gastropub hasn’t really landed here yet. Or has it? Galvin HOP is a sleek stab at bringing beer and good food together. It is unashamed of its Michelin Star heritage, parked as it is next to the Galvin brothers’ La Chapelle, but remains resolutely a pub.
The food is resolute too. To start, the butcher’s board deluxe: Scotch eggs, speck, pork scratchings and an indomitable pork pie complimented by a marmalade egg with marmite topping. A very pub carnival that wasn’t a gesture but a sincere celebration of these foods. The renaissance of such meaty parcels of Englishness is long over which is good because one suspects head chef Chris Barrett isn’t doing this to be part of any fad. The best thing about these meaty opening salvos is they reminded us of why Pienaissance happened in the first place.
Perhaps unsurprisingly our eyes turned towards the fish for the main as we took on the fish pie, the salmon and a brigade of Dorset snails – fat, juicy and suitably garlic sodden. The size of the snails, and the salmon, caught in the Severn, reminds you that England’s culinary, and physical, hinterland is no backwater. This fish was as good as any you’ll eat from Scotland or Alaska. It was a beast, succulent and fresh, a usurper of steak, firm but without losing the buttery tenderness of the perfectly cooked flesh; it was simple and unfussy and a triumph for it. Sadly, having been so spoilt by the succulence ensconced in the snails and the salmon, we felt a little let down by the fish pie which felt a little dry – ticking boxes, a worthy course, but no par excellence.
Starting with the butcher board deluxe meant by the time we finished our mains there was simply no room for dessert. At the time this was welcome relief, I now feel regretful as the Amalfi lemon posset and valrhona chocolate choux bun looked astounding. Either way it is testament to the quality of the food here that you’ll be struggling to save room for three courses – even my dining partner, a man who wears his membership of the Order of City Lunches First Class under his shirt, was defeated.
However, we did enjoy a pudding of sorts. Throughout we had been heartily swigging the delicious unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell that Galvin ships in weekly from the Czech Republic. Fresh and refreshing enough after a deskbound day, the barman then gave us a variation on the pour: a glass of foam. You can’t escape the fact it’s a gimmick but it was certainly intriguing – creamy but sour and with a strange, elusive body. It’s no substitute for the beer but it’s worth making friends for and asking them for a glass.
The plan is for the Spitalfields’ installation of Galvin HOP to be the first in a chain. ‘We’re proud of the quality of the product we have, we’re proud of the way we purchase ingredients, we’re proud of the beer we have as well,’ says Barrett. ‘We’re building a new project from scratch, it’s not like we’re opening an old book and reading it out.’
The project is a good one. These won’t be gastropubs for their own sake, farm house furniture and pork belly, but welcome modern urban pubs attracting as much custom through their menu as their beer. Barrett says he has his dream job combining the two, I would say go now before he gets called next door to join his Michelin-starred colleagues.