Kitchens, like offices, can be hotbeds for romances and how Monica and David Galetti met whilst working at Le Gavroche, fell in love and married, is one of the most well-known stories in the hospitality industry. Having left Le Gavroche behind, yet still juggling judging on MasterChef: The Professionals, Monica opened Mere with David just a couple of months ago.
They chose Charlotte Street as the location for their first joint venture – thankfully the northern, quieter part of the street nestled amongst the apartment buildings and ad agencies of Fitzrovia, far away from the chains and madding crowd of the Oxford Street end. On entering though I did wonder if I had accidentally walked into a Novotel: there is a modern French feel, with blues and greys permeating throughout oddly reminiscent of Grey Goose’s branding.
First stop: the bar. I love that they have a designated bar, as any decent restaurant should, but on a Saturday evening it was sadly devoid of people. It felt more like a dentist’s waiting room in some kind of sci-fi dystopia. A pity – it’s a decent space and if used to its full potential the bar could become a destination in itself (I suspect that’s the intention as I spied bar snacks on the menu). I sipped on a “Ginger and Gin” on a bar stool whilst waiting for my colleague to join me – an easy-going and refreshing aperitif but slightly steep at £12 considering the simple ingredients used.
Downstairs there is the occasional Samoan mural or artefact on the wall in honour of Monica’s heritage, but something about the wood panelling lit by downlighters jarred with me. It doesn’t fit. At times I had to remind myself this was a restaurant, not a City law firm.
the Galettis are hands-on too. Monica actually cooks in the kitchen and David is the sommelier, interacting with guests in the dining room
The service, thankfully, is not as soulless as a law firm. In fact I’m pleased to report that the service, at least on the day I visited, was faultless. Being alumni of Le Gavroche, I would expect nothing less from the Galettis (Le Gavroche is the only restaurant that I have awarded a full 6 out of 6 for service – so far). And the Galettis are hands-on too. Monica actually cooks in the kitchen and David is the sommelier, interacting with guests in the dining room.
Upon ordering we were gifted freshly baked miniature loaves of bread. As for the meal as a whole, my colleague and I both found our starters unremarkable. My pork ‘boil in’ broth was quickly forgotten: nicely presented, with a well-made consommé, but really nothing special. Essentially just flavoured water with vegetables and bits of pork floating in it – at £13 I actually regretted choosing it a bit. However, things vastly improved as we progressed, with stellar main courses and knock-out desserts. The rump and belly of lamb was cooked to perfection. My colleague was in raptures about his squab and especially the Ras el Hanout Pastilla on the side – essentially a kind of pancake. A lot of thought goes into the sourcing of ingredients too – though, fortunately, the pigeon isn’t local (London sky rat anyone?).
A lot of thought goes into the sourcing of ingredients too – though, fortunately, the pigeon isn’t local
Both main courses came with a heavily reduced jus – reduced to clear, you could say. Indeed, on finishing our mains and with plenty of the jus left on our plates, I was pleased that our waiter offered more free bread for soakage – Mere won an extra half point for that.
For dessert I think my malt brulee won the day. The pearl barley granola with lime and lager sorbet was such a bizarre idea on paper, and yet it worked so well.
The whole meal was washed down with a bottle of the Carpinetto – a Sangiovese blend from 2007. A sensational wine, if a little on the dear side at £72. Just as my colleague had quipped “it’s time to roll out the red Carpinetto”, so it did, via a futuristic decanter that may have been a prop on Star Trek The Next Generation.
Speaking of the funky decanter, I loved the glassware generally. I loved the plates. I loved the cutlery. I even loved the soft furnishings. But I’m sorry, I hated the little lamps on each table. I’m not sure what devilish spirits possessed the designers when they signed off on these lamps but they add nothing to the dining experience at Mere; if anything, they seriously detract from it. These lamps are shaped like little tent poles and are roughly about 30cm high – standing by themselves, apparently secured to the table by a magnet. They’re like desk lamps only positioned at eye-height and giving more light than the two suns of Tatooine. I found them to be extremely irritating. Please remove them. Remove them now.
I also have issues with the value, I’m afraid. If you went every week you would soon be bankrupt, which is a shame if they want to build a loyal following (and current evidence shows that people are generally going off fine dining). Across the board I’m seeing all restaurants having to increase prices because of the weak pound – impacting on wine imports especially – but be warned, at Mere it’s £4.75 for a single shot of espresso.
So… Mere is not a mere puff or a whimper: the flavours are bold and the service is already polished, which is pleasing to see in such a new restaurant. If only something could be done to improve the lighting, the bar, and maybe a gentle lowering of prices here and there, and it would be just about bloody perfect.
74 Charlotte Street
by J A Smith