What Would Burt Do?

22 February 2008

Rob Stagg realises that ultimately food is food and wine is wine at the Galleria

Burt Lancaster, whose tastes ranked marginally better than his acting skills, was fond of quipping to anybody in the vicinity that a restaurant should be judged by its bread and coffee. Reductive isn’t quite the word, is it? The peripheries and fripperies of restaurants have never much tickled me–and I can’t imagine a mug of beans or a chunk of starch prompting some Damascene conversion to The Lancaster Menu.

Burt, or “Mr Muscles and Teeth” as he was known in the Hollywood crowd, would have loathed The Galleria. The bread is just bread, and the coffee is just coffee. The food, by the way, is just food–but it’s rather good. And the wine positively bubbles with flavour. The staff are magnanimous, without risking condescension, and beam out professionalism. The place has a mahogany sophistication and an amiable view onto the Cam. The food is served on plates that are round and white, with cutlery that does what it’s told.

More on the wine: it’s a jungle. I mean it. They must have–they simply must have–tripped and skipped through the forests of South America to locate something quite so delightful and fruity. It’s worth confessing that, for this reviewer, vodka and gin are deliciously indistinct, but (trust my tastebuds) this stuff really is good. Try the Santa Puerta Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a whirling dervish of alcoholic energy for £15.95 a bottle.

Don’t skip the meal either. My tiger prawn salad combined its constituent elements with studied precision and real success. The duck liver and Grand Marnier parfait, the selection of my dining partner (who can, incidentally, tell his gin from his vodka), risked uniformity and beigeness–but slimly avoided it.

The main courses were also a minor triumph. A viscously good port and black cherry sauce nicely lifted my duck breast, and the sea bass was quietly brilliant. The desserts, though, are more–what’s the euphemism?–functional than the rest. My sticky toffee pudding was sticky and made of toffee and that’s about it. The Galleria Cocktail was straight out of a Beefeater.

Not that I cared over much. Two thirds of The Galleria’s menu is a leaping success: presented with style and laden with substance, it carefully navigates some delicate flavours. If the desserts come as something of an afterthought, it’s because they are. By the second bottle of wine, I was galumphing through a tropical forest, entirely oblivious to the Comic Relief-ish music and the broodingly brown surrounds. The place isn’t transcendently good, but for my money (or yours), it’s worth another visit. Maybe just for the vino.