Newcomer of the Year – Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

13 July 2006
Newcomer of the Year – Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

Sponsored by Christie + Co

It's safe to say that the 2006 Catey Newcomer of the Year was one of the most eagerly anticipated London restaurant openings of the past 12 months. But over-anticipation is a dangerous thing - there's a greater than average chance that the restaurant in question, once opened, will not live up to the hype.

The pre-opening expectation aimed in Galvin Bistrot de Luxe's direction, luckily, was met - even, most in the industry would agree, exceeded. From the word go, the restaurant received rave reviews from difficult-to-please critics, while word-of-mouth recommendation within the industry and among early diners ensured that the reservations book has always been full weeks in advance.

"Try calling on a Tuesday to get a reservation on a Friday? - forget it," commented judge Paul Heathcote.

"It's full on a Monday lunchtime, for god's sake, it's a great success story," remarked another member of our panel.

When you consider the pedigree of the restaurant's chef-proprietors, the anticipation of its opening last September and its subsequent success is hardly surprising. It's the first enterprise of two of the capital's top chefs, brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin, and between them they have a wealth of experience at some of London's top eateries. Chris guided the Orrery to a Michelin star and launched the Wolesley for restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King; Jeff has worked at Chez Nico, the Greenhouse and most recently held a star at L'Escargot's Picasso Room.

However, there was plenty of risk involved in the venture. To get their project off the ground, the brothers used accumulated savings and borrowed to the hilt. More dangerously they took on a site on an unfashionable thoroughfare of a street that even the talented restaurateur Alan Yau had failed to make work.

The Galvins had a vision, though, of eschewing Michelin-star-chasing and opening a contemporary bistro inspired by the "bistrot moderne" movement in France: and they held true to it.

Their 90-seat restaurant serves superbly crafted, delicious, unfussy French classics at amazing prices; the three-course set price lunch and dinner menus, for instance, both come in under £20. Dishes such as terrine presse of pork and foie gras, pithivier of wood pigeon with glazed chestnuts, confit duck with sauce rouennaise, parmentier of oxtail and black pudding, Landes chicken; and, in the words of Jay Rayner, the Observer's restaurant-man-who-knows, "a perfectly executed crème brûlée".

Rayner's praise for Galvin's food was echoed by his counterpart at the Times, Giles Coren, who rhapsodised about the "wonderfully fragrant" girolles veloute that accompanied his lasagne of Dorset crab and wrote about his joy at discovering the restaurant in the first place. "What can I tell you? Galvin is the best restaurant I have lit upon this year," he told his readers.

As a consequence of its pricing policy and craftsmanship on the plate, Galvin is bursting at the seams, serving 80 covers at lunch and 110 in the evening.

"The truth is, you can feed people for relatively little, and provide smart service, fresh flowers and an appealing decor, if you choose to keep it simple and lack avarice," wrote the Guardian's Matthew Norman last October.

It's a sentiment with which our judges wholeheartedly agree.

The shortlist

  • Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, London
  • The Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Buckinghamshire
  • Leon

Judges

  • Pascal Aussignac, proprietor, Club Gascon
  • Peter Birnie, chief inspector, AA Hotel Services
  • Paul Heathcote, chief executive, Heathcotes
  • Robert Milburn, partner PriceWaterhouseCoopers
  • Ian Neill, chief executive officer, Wagamama
  • Simon Rogan, chief proprietor, L'Enclume
  • Andrew Stembridge, managing director, Chewton Glen
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