Lady Barbara Judge discovers a delightful blend of French and South Pacific influences at Monica Galetti’s new London restaurant, Mere
I have dined at Le Gavroche, one of the first great French restaurants in London, a number of times over the many years that I have lived and worked in the city. But I am not a regular because, even though it has always been seriously special food, it comes at a high price. Besides, I like to try new, modern restaurants for my column, as well as for my palate. So it was, that when I was invited to Mere in the first few weeks after it opened, by someone who knew about my passion, I could not resist the chance to try this new offering.
I was particularly intrigued by the fact that it is owned in part by a woman, famed chef Monica Galetti, together with her French husband David, who was the sommelier at Le Gavroche.
Monica, herself, had worked at two Michelin-starred Le Gavroche as a seriously accomplished sous chef for many years, and rose to fame in 2009, when she became a judge on MasterChef: The Professionals on the BBC. After 15 years, Monica left Le Gavroche in 2015 to set up her own restaurant, Mere, which means ‘mother’ in French, and is also the name of Monica’s mother – pronounced ‘Mary’ in Samoan.
This is a lovely, understated restaurant, located with numerous other excellent restaurants on Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia. The menu focuses on special seasonal produce and classic techniques, and features extremely well-prepared, but not overly fussy, dishes, such as scallops with black curry, basmati, lime, kumquat and puffed rice. That may sound complicated but, when it was served, all the ingredients melded together into lovely distinct flavours focussed on the scallop.
As Monica was born in Samoa and grew up in New Zealand, the cuisine is a mixture of French and South Pacific influences, and the pork ‘boil-up’ was unmistakably from this region. It was a mixture of ham hock, watercress doughboy, sweet potato and horseradish, all in a luxurious broth – different and delicious.
For the main course, I tried the steamed cod with Jerusalem artichoke, monk’s beard and seaweed. My companion had the poached lobster with potato purée and sweetheart cabbage all surrounded by a traditional lobster bisque sauce. This lobster was the winner, but both were refined and delicious, and just what modern French cooking is supposed to be about. For me, however, the fact that the head chef is a woman continued to make the experience all the more magical.
Dessert is my favourite course, and, not surprisingly, I chose to have two, even though it was a weekday – and I usually save the treats for the weekends. The poached pear crumble with spiced pear ice cream just narrowly edged out the rhubarb and crème fraiche layers with shortbread and white chocolate sorbet. Both were delicious and elegant, and beautifully presented in a restrained and refined fashion. Thankfully, the portions were small enough not to make us feel too guilty, and indeed left us sweetly energised to take on the last half of the day.
It was a very special Friday in a very special restaurant, owned by a very special lady. Reservations are hard to obtain, but the dining experience is worth the wait.
Lady Barbara Judge is currently the Chair of the Institute of Directors and has held many posts across the corporate and charitable sector, including Chairman of the Pension Protection Fund, commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Lady Barbara has always had an abiding love for food, and her frequent international business travels have enabled her to indulge this passion in many top restaurants across the globe. Lady Barbara Judge pays all of her own expenses.