Now that Instagram exists and most of us spend our hungover days flicking through intermittent photos of puppies and food porn, it’s sometimes worrying when a restaurant has a “thing”. Find a “thing” (note: this isn’t always a gimmick) and a lot of venues take that as a free pass to serve up condensed cardboard fashioned into a funny hat as long as it goes on your social media. So we find ourselves at L’Ami Malo: their “thing” is Breton galettes; savoury crepes that you’ve probably not eaten outside France. Let’s find out if the hype is really real.
Venue and Atmosphere
Liverpool Street doesn’t exactly scream ‘finding a cute little French venue down an adorable alley’, but then Elon Musk shot a car into space this year so who even knows anything anymore? Between Liverpool Street and Spitalfields you’ll find a non-descript door leading into L’Ami Malo. It’s a contemporary joint, particularly long, and opening onto the dining area. Think black wooden chairs tucked into polished wooden tables and wall sofas lining one end until it reaches the semi-open kitchen. We sat on the romantic little table beside the kitchen, where we had full view of the action in there and the sexy, dimly lit bar in the adjoining room (they saved the even suaver, darker wood for the bar). The walls are white-washed and it’s all very minimalist bar flowers on the tables, vases, and an odd trinket kept in a hole in the wall next to our table.
The crowd was around early thirties, with a few tourist groups, and felt quite relaxed. It works best as a date venue, with small corners to steal away and a well-curated interior to make you feel comfortable. And if you can pronounce galette properly, you’ll definitely be onto a winner.
Food and Drink
Before I could even look at the menu our waitress was helping us through it. After quizzing us on our knowledge of galettes – I, of course, answered with the insufferable speed and smugness of someone who’s only just looked it up on Wikipedia – she drew our attention to the maki rolls. Instead of the traditional Nori-kind, these were wrapped in savoury crepes. Interesting. If anything would put ‘gimmick or a “thing”’ to the test, surely this was it.
The fillings were all traditional French starters, and we opted for the smoked salmon (£8.50) with capers, shallot, dill keta caviar and crème fraiche, and the ham hock (£7), coming with gherkin, watercress, piccalilli. They arrive in six adorable portions, aligned on a wooden paddle. In this case, it's completely appropriate to judge a book by its cover. The roll was wonderfully fresh, the caviar gave an extra dimension to the roll, and the crepe itself was a natural fit, not just holding the piece together but balancing it with a unique savoury edge.
I’m in two minds about the ham hock. Yes, it was very tasty and, yes, the vinegary delight of hock + piccalilli was there, but I’m not sure it quite worked as a maki roll. Unlike the salmon, the crepe didn’t add much. This might be my fault for pairing it with the lightest-of-light salmon.
Anyway, that was a strong start, but the real test was yet to come. At these affordable prices, and it being a French restaurant (i.e. the champions of tiny plates), I expected the galettes to be small yet refined.
I was wrong.
I was so wrong.
I ordered the confit duck leg (£14) with braised red cabbage, caramelised pear, tenderstem broccoli and red wine jus. In no way did I expect the whole duck leg on my plate but I’m so glad I did. The portion was huge and they made every bite count. The galette - rolled up and presented beautifully with striking burnt ends - was perfect, the jus adding a sweetness to the dish, and the cabbage was just the right texture. I’m not sure why the caramelised pear was there; I’m not complaining, anyhow.
My friend ordered a delicious, I-barely-got-to-taste-it goat’s cheese galette (£10), with confit shallot, roasted butternut, onion cider marmalade, squash, and honey and walnut salsa. Again, the galette itself was flawless, and the huge amount of goat’s cheese was a delight for two people who always wanted to bat out with a mouth full of cheese.
Despite eating more crepes than anyone in the history of France, we ended on a traditional crepe: poached pear (£5) with chocolate sauce, roasted almond and vanilla ice cream. I didn't need anymore proof, but it's here: they are masters of crepes.
Hidden in the backstreets of the City, specialising in one French thing: you can see why I was worried L’Ami Malo would be a gimmick factory. But not only do they execute their galettes with precision, the food is hearty, delicious, and still left me wanting to go back. If you want high-grade food that – somehow – doesn’t break the bank, you’ve found your new spot. Make sure you order the maki rolls.