The Galvins take on Edinburgh

28 September 2012
The Galvins take on Edinburgh

Since the opening of their Bistrot de Luxe in 2005, Chris and Jeff Galvin have become celebrated standard-bearers for French restaurants in London. With Michelin stars at Galvin at Windows and La Chapelle, top-class bistros in Bistrot de Luxe, Café a Vin and Demoiselle, a concession at Harrods run by Chris's wife, Sara, their business has exploded over the past seven years, now employing 280 people.

In addition, their unwavering commitment to their industry has seen them launch various charity and training initiatives including Galvin's Chance and the Galvin Cup, which continue to support and inspire young people in hospitality.

The brothers' ethos of using high-quality seasonal produce to create simple, honest food that focuses on flavour has proved a winning formula even during the recession, showing that even in the toughest climate it's possible to achieve both high culinary standards and broad diner appeal.

This month sees the Galvins launch two new restaurants and for their latest openings they've travelled to Edinburgh, marking their first foray outside London. It's a pretty big move for the brothers and an impressive one at that. For the Galvins aren't just opening any old restaurant in any old location - they have taken over one of the Scottish capital's most iconic dining rooms, the Pompadour at the Caledonian hotel.

Located in the heart of Edinburgh, the historic property has undergone a £24m refurbishment and this week relaunches as a Waldorf Astoria hotel, Hilton's Á¼ber-luxury brand, with the Galvins' two restaurants - Pompadour by Galvin and Galvin Brasserie de Luxe - forming part of a major F&B overhaul at the hotel (see page 58). Their fine-dining restaurant, Pompadour by Galvin, located on the hotel's mezzanine level with views over Edinburgh Castle, comprises a 55-seat restaurant housed in the legendary dining room which first opened in 1925. Named after Madame de Pompadour, the famous mistress of Louis XV, and styled on the illustrious French king's lavishly decorated drawing room, it used to be the fine-dining destination in Edinburgh but in recent years has fallen by the wayside.

However, all that is about to change with Hilton bringing the restaurant back to its former glory, both from an architectural and culinary point of view. The listed interiors have remained, with the beautiful wallpaper and ornate panelling and ceiling carefully restored. The room is just like its namesake - beautiful and feminine - with an intimate setting and a menu of delicate, fine French food to match.

Meanwhile, on the ground floor, Brasserie Galvin de Luxe is more informal, bigger and livelier than upstairs. With a dedicated street-level entrance, it has seating for 136 diners and is modelled on a vibrant Parisian brasserie, divided into two separate rooms featuring a large circular eating bar and a crustacean counter at the centre. The menu offers French classics including a daily changing plat du jour and prix-fixe menu at £15.50 or £18.50 for two or three courses.

SCOTTISH PRODUCE Both restaurants showcase the classic French cooking the Galvins are famous for coupled with seasonal Scottish produce, the discovery of which has been hugely inspiring, the brothers say.

"Prince Charles brought a group of small Scottish farmers down to the RAC Club in London and we met a bunch of great suppliers through the event," says Chris.

"We then went on a three-day road trip, which was fantastic. We've now started using lots of the suppliers at our London restaurants, too, so it has been really great for us."

But the Galvins' relationship with Scotland goes deeper than their love of the local produce. "There's a family connection to Scotland. Jeff's father, my stepdad, was this mad Scotsman who taught me so much about life, and I got married in Dumfries," says Chris, who also opened Etain, a restaurant in Glasgow, for Sir Terence Conran in 2003.

Despite their spiritual connection to Scotland, however, opening two restaurants there is a brave move for the brothers. After all, Edinburgh is not exactly around the corner from London, where they are based, and operating from a distance can be a challenge. And if history is anything to go by, the Scots don't always welcome big shots from the South with open arms - Gary Rhodes, Gordon Ramsay and Michael Caines all ended up closing their Scottish outposts. However, at least the industry's response to the Galvins' arrival has been brilliant, according to Jeff.

"The welcome we have had has been amazing, it has been so refreshing to see all the chefs here be so helpful, whether it be with staff or suppliers. They must feel slightly threatened by us coming here but they've all been really supportive."

The Galvins add how impressed they have been with the dining-out scene in Edinburgh, praising not just the quality of restaurants such as Martin Wishart and the Honours, the Kitchin, Castle Terrace and Ondine, but also the buzz. "It's really busy and restaurants are full, which is really encouraging to see," notes Chris.

But although Edinburgh - like London - seems to be a bit of a bubble as far as restaurants are concerned, the Scottish capital is not immune to the economic downturn. High-profile closures such as the Atrium and Blue by Andrew and Lisa Radford (who have since re-emerged with Timber Yard), the Vintners Rooms and, more recently, Tony Singh's Oloroso, show that even the most experienced operators need to stay on top of their game to survive in the current climate.

"It's tricky for the whole of the UK and we've got to get used to it," says Chris. "People ask when the economy will return to normal but it's not going to. This is it now and we have to learn to operate in this market." The key is, adds Jeff, to be competitive and affordable and have flexible entry points at all levels. "You have to offer value for money even at the high end," he explains. "We're trying to be a lot of things for a lot of people at these restaurants so we have to get the offer right."

They've certainly had plenty of time to plan getting things right - the Edinburgh openings have been a long time coming for the Galvins, who were first approached by James Glover, vice-president of food and beverage in Europe at Hilton Worldwide, in 2009. But with a tricky refurbishment in a historic building such as the century-old Caledonian, it took more than three years for the project to be confirmed.

Was it ever frustrating? "We're patient and we've had enough going on in London with opening La Chapelle and Demoiselle to keep us busy," says Jeff. "What was most important for us was to find the right chef up here, who can head up this operation."

The Galvins have appointed Craig Sandle as executive chef of both restaurants. He was previously head chef at the Michelin-starred Number One restaurant at the Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh.

LOCAL MARKET Jeff says: "We wanted to keep it as Scottish as we can and appoint someone who really understands the local market and knows the produce here. Craig has a lovely temperament when it comes to training young people, which is very important to us, and he's flexible and always has the customer at the forefront of his mind."

Sandle, who has spent time with the Galvins across their London restaurants, has been put in charge of both the Pompadour and the Brasserie, and although he will have the backing of the Galvins and group executive chef Warren Geraghty and group head chef Kevin Tew, he will have full control over the menus.

"Our restaurants have to be different. I couldn't bear the thought of someone coming to La Chapelle and saying: "Oh look I had that same main course in Scotland last week."

It has to be our style and we will keep our arm around Craig in that sense but like André Garrett" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">head chef] at Galvin at Windows, he will have complete autonomy over what he cooks," says Jeff.

Indeed, what defines the Galvins is a desire to empower their staff, giving them the best possible training and education to enable them to create their own success, which has in turn allowed their business to grow to where it is today. Seven years into their story and the brothers have gone from talented chefs to successful restaurateurs.

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, Baker Street
2006 Galvin at Windows, Park Lane, and Newcomer Catey
2009 Galvin La Chapelle and Café a Vin, Spitalfields
2010 Michelin star for Galvin at Windows and Independent Restaurateur Catey
2011 Michelin star for Galvin La Chapelle
2012 Galvin Demoiselle, Harrods
2012 Pompadour by Galvin and Galvin Brasserie de Luxe, Edinburgh

The 241-bedroom Caledonian or "Caley" first opened in 1903 as a railway hotel and quickly became a major destination. This week, the property officially relaunches as a Waldorf Astoria hotel under Hilton's luxury brand following a £24m refurbishment and restoration project.

Next to the Galvins' two new restaurants, Hilton has also created a new Peacock Alley bar (below), housed in the former railway station adjacent to the hotel, which has been modelled on the famous original at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, featuring art deco interiors and serving a menu of afternoon tea and cocktails. In addition, the hotel's Caley bar offers 250 malt whiskies.

Other facilities include eight refurbished flexible meeting rooms catering for up to 250 guests, as well as the listed Castle Suite Ballroom and Castle Lounge with undisturbed views of Edinburgh Castle.

General manager Willy Blattner
Executive chef Spencer Wilson
Bedrooms 241
Address Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 2AB
Telephone 0131-222 8888

Every day for lunch and dinner
Executive chef Craig Sandle
Manager Fredrik Laseen
Capacity 136
Menu Dishes include tartare of Scottish beef Á la maison; terrine pressé of chicken, ham hock and foie gras; langoustine mayonnaise; roast tranche of cod, cockle and parsley risotto; crisp duck leg confit, boudin noir, red wine sauce; grilled entrecôte steak, pommes Anna, sauce choron; tarte tatin of pears, crème fraÁ®che; marquise au chocolat
Average spend £30 Á la carte; £15.50/£18.50 two/three courses prix fixe
Telephone 0131-222 8988

Open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner only
Executive chef Craig Sandle
Manager Nicholas Baxter
Capacity 55
Menu Terrine of foie gras, Provence peach, fresh cobnuts and toasted brioche; marinated hand-dived scallops, Charlotte potatoes, Jerusalem artichoke and lamb's lettuce; seared fillet and slow-cooked Angus beef with potato galette Lyonnaise and creamed spinach; poulet en vessie "Pompadour", Savoy cabbage, pommes cocotte and foie gras sauce (for two); roasted Rhône apricots, lavender sabayon and honey ice-cream; soufflé of Scottish raspberries and raspberry ripple bonbon
Average spend £58 three courses Á la carte; £68 seven-course tasting menu, £120 with wine
0131-222 8975

RECIPESPot-roast Scrabster lobster, girolle and herbs >>[Pear tarte tatin, cinnamon ice-cream >>

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