If there is a street in London with more restaurants than Upper Street, I have not found it in my 27 years living in the capital. So synonymous has the street become with its sheer number of eateries that locals have nicknamed it ‘Supper Street’.
So whenever a new place opens, it begs the question: does Upper Street need yet another restaurant?
The latest addition is Galley, brainchild of brother and sister team Marcel Grzyb and Oriona Robb.
Marcel is an european success story for troubled Brexit times. Born and raised in Poland, he arrived in London at 18 and got a job as kitchen porter at Randall & Aubin, Soho’s famed fish restaurant.
He went from cleaning dishes to cooking, eventually becoming head chef, a position he held for 10 years.
His sister Oriona has had a more varied career as a stylist, set designer, makeup artist and interior decorator. Galley is where the two have combined their cookery and design skills to create a bar and restaurant where the décor is just as important as the food.
Visually, Galley is stunning: striped ceiling, tiled floor, antique mirrors, open kitchen and art deco lamps. Yet apart from a smiling waitress and two jolly chefs, the place was completely empty.
Perhaps this is the downside of Upper Street. Come evening, there’s no shortage of well heeled Islingtonites looking for somewhere snazzy to spend their salaries, but Galley is not a place to nip to for a quick working lunch. It is too luxurious.
A friend and I slid into a green velvet banquette, ordered two glasses of the Malbec the waitress recommended and perused the menu. Marcel has stuck to what he knows, and fish features heavily. The menu is divided into oysters, platters, small plates and large plates. We settled on crab, octopus and chorizo, beef carpaccio and tuna tartar.
Our bread came with a lemony, mackerel pâté and as we nibbled, sipped and gossiped I wondered why more people don’t treat themselves to lazy, winey lunches on Tuesday afternoons.
The tuna arrived, with diced mango and avocado, sprinkled with nigella seeds and tangy with soya sauce. It was delicious. My friend’s crab crostini was likewise superb. “Utterly sublime,” she told me between mouthfuls. “Light, herby, with a nice squidge of garlicky mayonnaise. Exactly what you want when you order Cornish crab.” And the servings were gratifyingly large; none of this glorified canapé nonsense.
We had hesitated before ordering the beef carpaccio with parmesan, pistachios and cubes of beef jelly. On paper, it sounded bizarre. On the plate, it was a meaty delight. But the standout dish was the octopus with chorizo: salty, fatty and gutsy. We could have eaten it many times over and still had room for more.
By this point we ruled out any worries about our waistlines and plumped for the white chocolate panna cotta and a thick slice of salted caramel tart. The tart was the meal’s only let down: not as salty as I like my caramel and instead of green tea ice cream, which had run out, it came with boring vanilla. The panna cotta was chocolatey, creamy treat topped with sharp passionfruit and presented as a work of art (perhaps Oriona was involved) with blackberries, edible flowers and shards of honeycomb dotted around the plate.
We left as fully-fledged fans. Galley is not cheap, but you get what you pay for: delicious, imaginative, adventurous food, served by friendly, helpful staff in a sumptuous Art Deco lounge of a restaurant. The siblings have pulled it off: Galley earns its place on London’s most overcrowded street.
Galley, 105-106 Upper Street, N1 1QN.
£35 pp excluding wine