I rarely visit new restaurants within a week of opening. I’m never in a mad rush to be first; I tend to plan my diary in advance – I’m not a short notice kind of girl; new places don’t always cross my radar until they’ve already built up quite a buzz. But Galley restaurant and bar caught my eye amongst the flutter of press releases into my Inbox and as soon as I read the menu, I put my hand up to accept an invitation to review. After a soft launch weekend, it opened officially on Tuesday 2nd and we visited the same Friday.
In a prime location on Islington’s Upper Street, not far from Angel tube station, Galley is in a sea of restaurants along a street of little else. Clearly there’s custom enough for all – everywhere was rowdy crowdy, Galley included.
Summarising that tempting press release, Galley is a restaurant and bar ‘specialising in small and large international plates with a strong focus on fish’, founded by siblings Oriona Robb and Marcel Grzyb. Oriona put her styling experience to good use designing the interior while Marcel’s focus is on the menu – now cooking in his own place after 18 years at Randall & Aubin, the last 10 of which as head chef.
I’m late to arrive, so rush to meet Pete at our table in rather a fluster but it doesn’t take long for me to settle in and start to take in the interior. It’s a beautiful space that skillfully balances vintage elegance with a modern aesthetic; the bar sits near the entrance, then a few much-coveted booths before a banquette of tables opposite an open kitchen with a handful of counter seats.
My only bitch is that tables along the banquette are very close together indeed, making me feel uncomfortably voyeuristic towards our neighbours. Perhaps that’s why there’s a banging soundtrack of which, once the place is full, we can hear only the pounding bass; all melody is lost in the babble.
Having only recently discovered I like gin, after decades thinking otherwise, I love that a whole page of the drinks menu is dedicated to Gin & Tonic. I choose G’Vine Floraison with Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic and frozen grapes (£14) which is wonderful. And yes I pick out and eat the grapes too!
With it I try just one Crispy Tempura Oyster (£3 each). It’s delicious but, goodness me, it’s a teeny tiny little thing – you can just see it peeping out from behind the sauce and garnish there. Not quite a satisfying mouthful, I’m afraid.
There are several seafood starters that appeal, including Octopus & Chorizo a la plancha with white bean purée, smoked garlic pesto (£9), Hand-picked Cornish Crab on crostini with smoked garlic aioli, confit tomatoes (£9.5) and Hand Dived In-Shell Scottish Scallops with carrot, cardamom purée, toasted hazelnuts (£9) but in the end we pick two of the non-fish options.
Wookey Hole Cheddar & Ham Hock Croquettes with harissa mayonnaise (£7) are generously sized, served hot out of the fryer, great texture inside and out. The flavour from cheese and ham is a little milder than I’d like but the harissa mayonnaise makes up for that well enough.
The Hereford Beef Carpaccio with wild mushrooms, beef jelly, pistachio, parmesan (£10) is the definite winner – soft, well-textured beef with fabulous little cubes of vinegared beef jelly, a selection of properly cleaned and delicious wild mushrooms, shavings of parmesan, rocket leaves and roasted pistachio nuts; far more interesting than the usual beef, cheese, leaves and olive oil cliché.
The Scottish Venison with smoked potato purée, braised cabbage, thyme gravy (£21.5) is not at all what Pete was picturing – venison three ways rather than a single steak; while I’m not a fan of menus that provide an essay on every dish, more information on this one would have been welcome. All three ways are delicious, full of flavour and with a decent gamey flavour often lacking in farmed venison. I’ve no idea on provenance but it’s tasty meat.
We also follow our waitress’ suggestion that the venison dish needs a side (though on arrival, we don’t think it does). In any case, the Chargrilled Purple Sprouting Broccoli with crispy onions, lemon oil (£5) is a good choice, the broccoli still with some bite in the stems but not too much and a nice flavour from char, onions and oil.
My main of Pan-fried Sea Bass, gnocchi, peas, courgettes, wild mushrooms, truffle oil (£19.5) is delicious! The kitchen have not stinted on that truffle oil, indeed it’s the dominant flavour so if you’re not a fan, ask for less. I love it against the soft fish, crisp fish skin and pillowy gnocchi. The thick sauce of peas, courgettes and mushrooms is just right too. Simple, confident, tasty cooking that is absolutely worth coming back for.
With such success on the starters and mains, it’s hard to resist trying the desserts, though I can’t say we really need them, full as we are.
The Salted Caramel Tart with green tea ice cream, chilli & hazelnut praline (£7) is super rich, silky smooth and sinfully sweet though with a clear bitter caramel flavour in the background and a touch of salt to make everything pop. The green tea ice cream is insipid though, very little green tea flavour discernable.
My pick of the two desserts is the Amaretto & Verona Chocolate Fondant with cherry compote, mascarpone vanilla ice cream (£7), served hot and gushing hot molten chocolate when I cut it open. The amaretto flavour is clear but not overwhelming and lovely with the sweet chocolate and sharp cherries. Once again the ice cream is rather bland, though in this case that’s no bad thing as it’s simply a cooling hit of dairy against the rich pudding.
It’s been a super meal and one that certainly has me itching to come back – virtually every dish on the menu appeals and there is a tempting Sunday brunch menu too. Prices are very reasonable for food of this calibre in London – that runs through to the drinks, with bottles of wine starting at just £20 and cocktails all priced at £9.50.
It’s hard to judge service so early on when everyone’s peachy keen, excited and enthusiastic – certainly staff seem on the ball already and eager for customers to enjoy their visit. I’m sure the front of house team will continue smiling for the foreseeable; hopefully I’ll be back before too long to check for myself.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of Galley Restaurant & Bar.