Monday, 1 August 2011
We were nearing the end of a rather humdrum meal at Galoupet, a newish restaurant in Knightsbridge apparently run by winemakers from Provence, and I quite fancied some cheese. I often do. And as the cheese was listed on the menu as just "cheese", I thought I'd try my luck and ask a waiter what it was.
"And... what kind of cheese?"
"It's, um, blue. A blue cheese." he smiled back nervously. I think he was hoping that was the end of the conversation.
"Right. Can you--"
"I'll go and find out."
I ordered it anyway, because to be quite honest even after six small courses from the main menu I was still quite peckish, and it turned out to be some kind of smoked Stilton. Smoked Stilton, by the way, belongs firmly in the "just because you can, doesn't mean you should" category - I don't much like smoked cheese at the best of times, but this was particularly wrong. It was interesting, certainly, and not something you see every day, but still wrong. A bit like much of the rest of the meal, in fact. Let's rewind to the start.
A heritage tomato salad was good. Not quite as mind-blowing as the one served with goat's milk I'd had at the Young Turks evening at Restaurants in Residence a week or two before, but thanks to some top-quality toms and a nice strong dressing, very enjoyable, and a bit of a steal at £5. But while I enjoyed most of the secondary ingredients in another dish of grilled watermelon, basil and fennel, the watermelon itself was a very strange texture, dense and fleshy but with no salty protein hit, and was quite off-putting. It was definitely unusual, and not like anything I'd had anywhere before, but as I've said, just because you can doesn't mean you should.
And I really didn't enjoy "corn-crusted aubergine, green tomato chutney, goat's curd" at all. The chutney was way too sharp and overpowering, the curd too bland, and the aubergine chips themselves tasted of dry cardboard on the outside and soggy wet cardboard on the inside. Not very nice at all. Later on in the evening, the head chef (who had appeared to explain/apologise for the appearance of the smoked Stilton, which was a nice touch) told us that he'd prefer to deep fry the aubergine chips but that the owners had told him not to because people round Knightsbridge way wouldn't like it, so he dry bakes them instead. Which I'm sure is the kind of thing that makes perfect sense if you're a restaurateur and not a chef.
Mains, thanks to the appearance of some cooked meat, were slightly more satisfying but still nothing special. "Chilli pork 'Rib eye'" was a kind of polite Thai salad, like something you'd get in a box at Marks and Spencer’s, with heavily marinated strips of lean pork and pleasant Asian greens. "Lamb, chilli pickled fennel, pistachio" was also SE-Asian influenced and would have been a lot nicer if the lamb had been hot - I can't be the only person to find cold lamb fat a bit, well, challenging. And a small portion of sliced pink Onglet was, as you might rightly expect from O'Sheas beef, very good indeed, I just could have done with a bit more of it for my £9.50.
We ended, thankfully, not just on that weird smoked Stilton (which remained largely untouched) but with a portion of sweet English Strawberries and a glass of Pedro Ximenes. It was fine. Perhaps you'd get more out of Galoupet if you were a wine buff - every single wine they have is also available by the glass thanks to one of those fancy Enomatic machines that keeps even opened bottles in suspended animation, and it's probably a great place to go if you want to try a 125ml measure of Vosne Romanée 1er Cru for £18.20. I had a medium-sized glass of Chianti for £11.70; none of them were that cheap.
I am intensely aware I may be on my own in not really enjoying Galoupet much, as a quick scan at the London Eating page reveals professional critics and happy punters alike falling over themselves to lavish praise on the place. I'm also sure the issues with service are just opening months nerves and not a permanent feature (one poor waitress in fact was so terrified and spoke so quietly we could hardly hear a word she said. I felt too sorry for her to ask her to repeat herself). But from the strange minimalist décor, which was like eating at the back of an estate agent's, to the inoffensive cooking, it was all deeply underwhelming. Restaurants like this, polite and subdued, seemingly more concerned with their upscale surroundings and diet-conscious clientele than producing exciting food, well, they're not for me. But then, I don't live in Knightsbridge; I have a feeling that more because of my reservations than despite them, it will do very well.