One of the most talked-about openings of 2006 played host to 75 Caterer readers last month at a memorable Chef Eats Out lunch. Joanna Wood joined the diners at Galvin at Windows
There aren't many people who've had the privilege of peering, uninvited, into the gardens of Buckingham Palace, but 75 lucky diners at the last Chef Eats Out lunch of 2006 were able to check out whether or not Her Majesty's borders were overgrown. That's because the event, held by Caterer and Hotelkeeper together with industry supplier Brakes, took place on the 28th floor of London's Hilton on Park Lane at one of the capital's newest fine-dining "rooms with a view", Galvin at Windows. And the panoramic views over both Green Park and Hyde Park were stunning - a magical toytown slice of the capital city.
The restaurant - a joint venture between Hilton and the Galvin brothers, Chris and Jeff, opened in May 2006, hot on the heels of the duo's phenomenal success with their first business, Galvin Bistrot de Luxe on London's Baker Street, which launched in September 2005. So, not only were the assembled chefs able to peep over the walls of Buck House, they were also among the first industry insiders to get a feel (and taste) of the cooking and service standards that have propelled the two Galvins to the top of the capital's restaurateuring league table.
The breathtaking views were digested over pre-prandial drinks (Champagne or gin and tonic, depending on personal vices) and a selection of sophisticated canapés served up by Chris, Windows's head chef, André Garrett, and the skilled front-of-house team, led by senior assistant restaurant manager Flavian Leyet. Among the nibbles, dinky little roast potatoes stuffed with black pudding proved a big hit, with one visiting chef calling the morsels "phenomenal". These were served along with quail eggs with cèpe purée, pork belly matched with a daub of cauliflower purée and a sprinkling of caviar, cured Loch Duart salmon with crab and a lemon dressing, and truffled goats' cheese. Not a bad kick-off to the day.
The rest of the meal continued in like vein. Garrett and Chris Galvin had devised a five-course menu full of classical ingredient matches and technical adroitness; appropriate contemporary and seasonal touches were there, too. Chestnuts accompanied the main lamb dish and girolles added a touch of earthiness to the frogs' legs (cleverly spiced, according to a chef at my table, with anise, cumin and cinnamon) and lobster first course.
The intermediate course of foie gras, served "two ways", also had a touch of earthiness in the beetroot that came with the mouthful of seared liver (the other "way" was a classic micuit with pain d'épices). Beetroot has a natural sweetness, too, and this element was underlined by putting some glazed dates into the dish - too much, everybody thought, before popping the trio of tastes and textures in to the mouth. But it was spot-on, acting like a classic "sticky" wine match for foie gras, such as Sauternes.
In fact, a wine pairing of Riesling with the foie gras hit the mark, too, its acidity cutting through the sweetness of the dates and liver perfectly. Sauternes did have a role in the lunch, but had to wait until the appearance of a wonderfully creamy, hot and seasonal Mont d'Or Vacherin, served prior to the dessert, before taking a bow. The king of cheeses came with chunks of bread for dipping and the simplicity of the presentation in a swanky London dining spot was an eye-opener for many visiting chefs.
The presentation of the amuse bouche (potato risotto with white truffle on a mini white china soup spoon) and the pre-dessert (layered rhubarb syrup, panna cotta and crme anglaise in a mini Kilner jar) were also jotted down in notebooks - watch out for the jars coming to a restaurant near you soon!
Plating of the main lamb course (a ballotine) and the Valrhona palet d'or dessert (which came with a slice of dried banana and a chunk of deeply satisfying and nostalgic honeycomb crunch) were more conventional, but these two courses still provided the highlight of the meal for many, including visitors from Nutfield Priory in Surrey and Rookery Hall in Nantwich, Cheshire.
But if everybody at lunch thought that Chris Galvin's attention to detail only extended to the food and service, then they were in for a very pleasant surprise. A lucky few had envelopes waiting for them at their seats (randomly placed before the lunch) which, when opened, revealed prizes ranging from chefs' whites, to tins of caviar, a coffee machine, a magnum of Champagne and a trip to Prague! And for those who missed out, there were still fantastic goodie bags to take home when they left. A demonstration, if it were still needed, of how to turn a great day out in to a memorable one: take note any budding restaurateurs.
Pommery Apanage or Gordon's Gin and tonic
Smoked Scottish lobster, spiced frogs' legs, girolles and rosemary
Sauvignon Blanc Icon Series, Nobilo 2004
Foie gras two ways
Riesling Rudesheimer Magdalenkreuz Spätlese, Leitz 2005
Ballotine of lamb with chestnuts and green tomato jam, parmentier croustade with black truffle
Faugères jardis, Domaine Leon Barral 2002
Baked Mont d'Or Vacherin with Sauternes
Café and Mignardises
Rémy Martin XO
Galvin at Windows would like to thank the following: Hilton on Park Lane, Douwe Egberts Coffee Systems, Bragard, Gordon's Gin, Hunters & Frankau, BAT, Villeroy & Boch, Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Pommery Champagne, Caves des Pyrene, Genesis Wines, Thorman Hunt, Matthew Clark, Tau Water, Grivan Products, Rare Meats, Loch Fyne, Ritter Courivaud, L'Artisan du Chocolat, Marcus Miller Bread, MSK Food Ingredients, H&B Food, Cove Shellfish, Wild Harvest, Tres Soigne, First Choice Fruit & Vegetables.
André Garrett is representing the UK in the prestigious Bocuse d'Or, the international culinary competition set up by French überchef Paul Bocuse. It takes place on 23-24 January in Lyons. See how he got on in Caterer‘s exclusive report published next month.
Brakes is delighted to sponsor Chef Eats Out at the Hilton on Park Lane's Galvin at Windows restaurant. The event provided chefs from all regions of the UK with an opportunity to learn more about the passion, commitment and search for innovation that have brought success for Windows chef-proprietor Chris Galvin and his head chef, André Garrett.
Brakes carries out a considerable amount of work with chefs in the food service arena, particularly the hotels sector, and sponsoring Chef Eats Out is an extension of that commitment.
As the UK's leading supplier of food to hotels, Brakes is able to offer products to suit the needs of this dynamic sector of the hospitality industry and events such as Chef Eats Out enable us to gain a better understanding of customers' requirements and help direct our future focus.