The Galvin brothers have built up a little empire of deluxe, critically lauded and Michelin-starred restaurants in London. The spectacular Galvin La Chapelle in the City is one of these illustrious establishments, and the building also houses the less formal, brasserie-style Cafe a Vin.
Having visited La Chapelle, and able to confirm that it deserves its plaudits, it was time to try out its more casual (and less expensive) little brother. The Cafe is connected to (and can be accessed through) La Chapelle, but has it’s own entrances, with 2 main internal dining areas, and 2 terraces, one facing Spitalfields Square, and the other, more secluded terrace on another side.
While supposedly less upmarket than La Chapelle, the Cafe also looks rather stylish, with a very smart brasserie style and large zinc bar inside. The terrace facing the square is bustling on a nice day, and great for people-watching, but we opted for the quieter (on a Sunday evening) side terrace (which adjoins a smart terrace for La Chapelle.) It’s a lovely space, with plenty of greenery, heaters and uplighters, and feels far from the madding crowds.
We were greeted and seated by our charming hostess, and attended to by several waiters and waitresses throughout the evening, who were all friendly and engaging, and loved the little Jack Russell who accompanied us. A complimentary bubbly welcome drink arrived shortly (a nice touch), as we explored the menu. This provides a very classic French brasserie selection of dishes in the a la carte section, and a very reasonable set menu (2 or 3 courses.) We went for a la carte this time, and I ordered the Escargots to start, and Roast Peterhead Plaice with Samphire and Potatoes for my main, while munching on fresh and tasty french bread.
The snails arrived steaming hot, swimming in a rich garlicky butter sauce, as one would expect. The beasts were still within their shells, but the equipment provided made it very easy even for me to extract them. The snails were relatively large, juicy and well-cooked, and the butter was delicious (though very garlicky, a point to bear in mind for those averse to garlic.) Some extra bread came along to mop up what was left of that tasty sauce, after all the snails had disappeared.
The roast plaice looked impressively large, and while on the bone, it was easy enough to extract most of the flesh and remove the bone, as usual with place. The fish was simply cooked, but extremely well roasted, leaving the flesh soft but firm, and the natural flavours fully brought out. The accompanying samphire and potatoes were perfectly good, and after finishing the dish, I was feeling pretty full.
Ordering a dessert felt a little excessive, but when my eyes alighted on the “Petit Pot au Chocolat” on the menu, any conflict about having a dessert dissipated into the ether. It was “petit”, after all. The little dish (not so little, as it happens), arrived promptly, with the chocolate mousse covered in a crumbly top layer, with a biscuit on the side. The crumbly bits offered a great contrast and combination with the delicious, intense chocolate flavours, and this dessert can be recommended to any chocolate lovers without any hesitation.
Overall, I can’t recommend Cafe a Vin highly enough, given the lovely surroundings of the terrace, the charming staff, and the truly excellent French cuisine on offer (not really much below La Chapelle in quality, in truth.)