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Mere: a look inside Monica Galetti’s new restaurant

Mere: a look inside Monica Galetti’s new restaurant

by Great British Chefs 09 March 2017

There’s been a lot of buzz around the MasterChef judge’s newly-opened restaurant in Fitzrovia, which she opened with sommelier husband David. We went along to check out the menu.

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Being a TV chef can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, you’re getting massive exposure; on the other, people might think you’re better talking to the camera than you are on the pass. Monica Galetti might have been a steely-eyed sidekick to Michel Roux Jr and now Marcus Wareing on MasterChef: The Professionals, but that doesn’t mean she’s left the life of a chef – something her new restaurant Mere (pronounced Mary, which is both Monica’s mother’s name and French for mother, although we’re sure the staff are used to hearing it being pronounced in all sorts of ways) is out to prove.

It’s been two years in the making, with Monica and her sommelier husband David (both Le Gavroche alumni) looking at every aspect of the food, drink, design and feel of the place. When we visited it had only been open for three days but service was seamless, the atmosphere buzzed and Monica and David seemed incredibly relaxed for a couple who had spent the past few years juggling family life (they have a ten-year-old daughter at home) and opening their first ever restaurant.

The building itself is right in the heart of Fitzrovia, with the bar area up top and the larger dining room in the basement below. Unhappy with the fact that there would be very little natural light downstairs during lunch service, David and Monica battled hard with the council to get a full glass wall installed – something that’s definitely paid off. It actually feels more naturally light downstairs than it does at street level.

The décor is all muted blues and natural materials, with everything fitting together very nicely – even the menus have a touch of craftsmanship to them (cork for the wine list, slate for the cocktails and pearl for the main menu). There's plenty of Samoan artwork on the walls (including a very interesting traditional tapestry telling the story of Monica's life) and David’s love for wine is apparent throughout; as well as a glass-fronted wine rack in the centre of the room there is an amazing feature wall outside built from his enviable collection of wooden wine crates.

David Galetti
Monica and her husband David have spent the past two years designing the restaurant
Squab pigeon
The squab pigeon main came with an incredible confit leg pastilla

As for the food, there’s a set lunch menu for £35, an à la carte or a six-course tasting menu for £70 (£110 with matching wines). We chose some of the dishes David recommended as Monica’s signatures off the à la carte, but everything on there looked great – interesting enough to pique our curiosity without being completely obscure. We can’t wait to come back and try the octopus a la plancha with fennel, ‘nduja, capers and raisin or the steamed Skrei cod with Jerusalem artichoke, Monk’s Beard and seaweed emulsion, but we were more than happy with what we chose.

The two starters both featured influences from Monica’s home country of New Zealand, which she moved to from Samoa as a child. They weren’t the meagre mouthfuls you sometimes feel lean towards a canapé rather than a full course – they were almost as big as the mains. The most striking dish, a plate of scallops coated in a thick and glossy ‘black curry’ sauce (which included charcoal) came on a bed of basmati rice purée which was cut through with the zing of kumquats. Then there was the Pork ‘Boil Up’ – a traditional New Zealand dish with a refined twist. Two discs of pressed ham hock terrine with a pillowy, almost marshmallow-like watercress ‘doughboy’ dumpling on top. Around it sat little chunks of soft sweet potato submerged in a lightly spiced broth.

For main, the winner was definitely two breasts of squab pigeon, cooked perfectly pink and sweetened with rhubarb, softened with a smooth cauliflower purée and complemented by chard. Hiding underneath the breasts was an amazing pastilla, filled with rich confit pigeon leg and spiced with a special Ras el Hanout Monica created herself while in Morocco. While traditional pastillas are like round pies, this was more like a lighter, crispier spring roll – a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Equally tasty was the chicken breast with confit thigh, intensely flavoured wild mushrooms and delightful little agnolotti filled with smooth bread sauce and a madeira jus.

While the first two courses were cleanly presented, refined and presented in a classically contemporary way, the desserts were just good fun. The best – a rich pastry shell filled with rum-infused banana topped with plenty of whipped cream and a drizzle of rum caramel – was almost childlike and perfect for anyone with a serious sweet tooth, while the lighter blood orange mousse came with a refreshing yoghurt sorbet, shards of meringue and chunks of vibrant red ruby grapefruit.

Banana and coconut
Have a sweet tooth? Go for the banana and coconut cream pie
Champagne
David and Monica travelled to Champagne to develop their own bespoke blend for Mere

As you’d expect, the drinks on offer were of the highest calibre too, including a very sweet, almost dessert wine-like Reisling to accompany the starters and then a lovely rich Australian Cabernet Sauvignon to go with the pigeon. David obviously had great fun putting the list together, and he and Monica even travelled to Champagne to create their own bespoke blend, which can be bought by the glass before and during the meal.

Overall, it looks like Monica and David’s two-year journey has certainly paid off – the restaurant itself is beautifully designed and the food manages to hit that middle point of being clean and refined without the fussiness. After their years at Le Gavroche, it must be refreshing for the pair to serve simpler, more ‘relaxed’ cuisine (bear in mind Monica’s definition of relaxed is probably quite different from most people’s) that is quite clearly what they like to eat themselves. The set lunch menu also offers fantastic value for money, making Mere much more accessible than we first assumed. Whether you’re a fan of MasterChef or not, this is a restaurant to watch.

Great British Chefs was invited to experience the menu at Mere. For more information and to book, click here.

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