The family firm

06 October 2005
The family firm

Reducing your mother to tears isn't normally something to be proud of. But a fortnight ago, brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin confess, they had their mum, Kathy, "weeping" - and, what's more, they both thought it was brilliant.

Kathy's tears were those of pride and joy at stepping across the threshold of Chris and Jeff's first self-owned restaurant, Galvin, on London's Baker Street. "Mum just stood across the road and looked at the outside for a little while to take it all in," Chris says. "It was such a big moment for her."

Any parent would, of course, be proud of their children launching their own business, but, the brothers explain, their mother probably has more reason than most to feel a sense of achievement for her offspring. After all, it was her own passion for restaurants that got them into the business in the first place.

"Mum loves restaurants - she worked in the pot-wash for 40 years," Chris says. "She's a big fan of soap operas and working in a restaurant was like being in a soap, she always felt. It was natural for us to go into restaurants as we grew up loving them, too - it never really felt like going out to work for us."

It was thanks to Kathy's job as a pot-washer at the Old Log in Brentwood, Essex, that Chris went to work there as a 15-year-old commis chef 32 years ago under Antony Worrall Thompson. Since then, of course, he has never looked back. His career has taken in periods at London properties the Ritz, Inigo Jones, Mnage Trois in New York, and back to London again to work at L'Escargot, the Lanesborough and Orrery. His two most recent jobs were as chef-director for Conran Restaurants and then executive chef of the Wolseley for the past two years.

Jeff, who at 35 is 12 years Chris's junior, also has the most incredible CV, having worked at the Savoy, the Capital, Chez Nico at 90 Park Lane, the Greenhouse, the Oak Room and latterly as executive chef of L'Escargot in Soho. "I was very lucky having Chris as an older brother as he always gave me advice on where to go for my next job, so I ended up working

in amazing kitchens," Jeff says. "Working with Nico [Ladenis] when he got his third Michelin star, for instance, was the most fantastic experience - and it was Chris who suggested I go there to work."

The current restaurant marks the fourth time Jeff and Chris have worked together in their careers. Jeff's very first job was as a commis chef in Chris's kitchen at Dinham Hall in Ludlow, Shropshire, in the late 1980s and he also worked under his brother as a chef de partie at L'Escargot in 1991 and as senior sous chef at Orrery in 1997. "I think your first job moulds you as a chef, and because mine was with Chris I have a very similar attitude to him," Jeff says. "We tend to look at things in exactly the same way and we know how each other thinks."

The brothers confess they talked about opening their own restaurant, even back in the early days at Dinham Hall. "We thought how sad it would be if we got to be old men and never had a restaurant together," Jeff says. But it wasn't until February this year that they finally took the leap and began looking at properties.

Jeff says that having spent almost six years at L'Escargot, the last three as executive chef of both the Michelin-starred restaurant and the brasserie, he felt ready to do his own thing and "with no children or commitments, it was an easy decision for me to take".

With three young children and "a big mortgage", in contrast, Chris admits the decision to launch a self-owned venture was tougher for him, but two factors ultimately pushed him to do it. First, at the age of 47 he felt the time "to do it was now or never". "With 50 looming, it seemed like a good moment; I'm not sure I'd have done it after the age of 50 because doing an opening takes so much energy and it would also have felt just that bit riskier."

And, second, he feels very protective of his brother and, rather than seeing Jeff go it alone, thought it was better for the two of them to launch in partnership. "My father left home when I was 15 years old and Jeff was only three, so I've always felt quite paternal and protective towards him," Chris confides. "Jeff was itching to do his own business, so it seemed right that I should do it with him."

Not that Chris takes a more dominant or senior role in the business - all decisions are very much taken jointly and, for brothers, the pair have a remarkably easy-going and affable relationship; there's not a trace of sibling rivalry. "When I was younger and worked for Chris, he was my boss. But this time around it's different - it's eight years since we last worked together and I've been an executive chef, so we're very much on an equal footing here," Jeff says.

Initially the Galvins looked at a site on the Fulham Road for their business and were very close to taking on the lease, but then decided to see what their mutual friend, restaurateur Ken Sanker (of Chapter One in Locksbottom, Kent, and Chapter Two in Blackheath, London) thought of the deal.

"Ken took one look at it and told us it was a bloody awful deal," Jeff says. "But then he told us about this site on Baker Street - he thought it had real potential for us and, to enable us to get it, he came in as a third shareholder. Chris and I have control of the business, but Ken's there if we need him and he's been great at helping out on the paperwork side."

Both brothers confess it was the stunning, 200,000-plus kitchen - left from when Alan Yau's short-lived Anda was located here - that made them fall in love with the site. "The first time I walked into the kitchen, I simply wanted to work here," Chris says.

And both he and Jeff were clear on how they wanted their restaurant to be. They have a shared love affair with the "bistrot moderne" movement in Paris and wanted to establish somewhere similar in London. "In the mid-1990s, the recession in France meant none of the senior chefs in the top hotels and restaurants were moving on, so many of their sous chefs started getting frustrated. They began buying up little bistros and cooking simple, fabulous food in them - offering a small choice and incredible value to diners. That's what we wanted to do here."

Galvin does, indeed, feel like a Parisian bistro, with its wood-panelled walls, simple chairs, overhead fans and antique mirrors. And dishes, too, are unmistakably Gallic and, just like the bistrots modernes, change twice a day according to the best available market produce. Similarly prices are strikingly affordable.

The month-old restaurant has got off to an amazing start, too, with rave reviews across the board, not to mention scooping the Best New Restaurant Autumn 2005 award from restaurant guide Square Meal. Bookings are so healthy that the restaurant is capping lunch and dinners at 80 and 110 diners, respectively. "We don't want quality to suffer because we're serving too many people. We'll increase numbers gradually," Chris says.

So, it seems like mum will have reason to be proud for a long time to come.

Keeping prices low
One aspect of their restaurant that Jeff and Chris Galvin regard as crucial is the affordable pricing on the menu. A three-course à la carte dinner with wine will rarely top £40, while three-course set-price lunch and dinner menus are on offer alongside the ˆ la carte for just £15.50 and £17.50, respectively.

Chris explains that to achieve the democratic price-point of the menu took "lots of legwork" prior to opening, but, he insists, there are "numerous ways for restaurants to save and to pass on the savings to diners - it just takes that bit of work".

The following are a selection of the techniques the brothers are using to keep prices low.

  • "Prior to opening, Jeff and I went to Rungis market in Paris and found suppliers we wanted to use. That means they are supplying us directly, so we're cutting out the middle-men," says Chris. "The downside is, you have to pay these people quickly - there's not the same credit system you get with big suppliers, but you can make big savings by buying direct."

  • The pair are getting their French suppliers to bring over other products for them on the back of their vans for a small extra fee. "So, say, our duck supplier might bring over a box of cheeses for us for an extra 15 quid - but we're not having to pay to get the cheeses brought over separately or having to pay big mark-ups to buy the cheeses in the UK."

  • Using less fashionable, cheaper cuts of meat also results in big savings. For example, the brothers buy their venison from Denham Estate, "but, whereas most kitchens these days only want the fillets and sirloins that they can cook quickly, we're buying the shoulders and necks. They take longer to cook, but have a lot more flavour and they're much cheaper. Braising the cheaper cuts results in some fantastic dishes."

  • All ingredients are bought only at the height of their season, so when they are at their cheapest. "From this week, I don't think you'll see another tomato on the menu here until next year," says Chris.

  • From this week, the restaurant will be featuring game on its menus in a big way - a delivery of hare and partridge is anticipated around the date this article is published. "And here again it's possible to save: we'll pluck the game birds ourselves here, which will save us 50p per bird."

Sample menu from Galvin

Pumpkin and girolles soup, £4.95
Terrine presse of pork and foie gras, £6
Lasagne of Dorset crab, velouté of girolles, £9.75
Pithivier of wood pigeon, glazed chestnuts, £7.50
Charcuterie maison, £7.50
Salad of Roquefort, pear and walnut, £6.50
Oysters fines de
Claire (six) £10.50
Oak-smoked salmon, £9.75

Plats principal
Fillet of sea bass, shellfish Provencale, £12.50
Grilled cod, parsley and coco beans, £14
Risotto of courgette and saffron, £12.50
Parmentier of oxtail and black pudding, £9.75
Confit of duck, sauce rouennaise, £11.50
Poulet des Landes rôtie, forestière, £13.95
Daube of venison, celeriac purée, £15.25

Victoria plum tart, £5.50
Iced banana parfait, £6
Chocolate fondant, £5.50
Rice pudding, roast figs and Banyuls, £5
Savarin of red berries, £6
St Emilion au chocolat, £5
Cheese from the board, £6.50

Fact file

  • Address: 66 Baker Street, London W1U D7H

  • Tel: 020 7935 4007


  • Seats: 90

  • Launch date: 5 September 2005

  • Opening hours: Lunch: Mon-Sun 12noon-2.30pm (3pm on Sunday); Dinner: Mon-Sun 6.30pm-11pm (10.30pm on Sunday)

  • Average lunch covers: 80 (capped at 80 currently - expected to grow to 100)

  • Average dinner covers: 110 (capped at 110 currently - expected to grow to 140-150)

  • Average spend per head: £30, including wine

What the critics say

"The Galvin Two's aim is to address, in a small way, the infectious rash of overpriced restaurants in London."
Fay Maschler, London's Evening Standard

"Galvin is the archetypal must-see, hot-ticket, best-seat-in-the-house gig of the season… The menu is a hymn to French tradition. It pulses with Francophilia: terrines, daubes, veloutés, savarins… Altogether marvellous, then."
Marina O'Loughlin, Metro London

"What is exceptional about Galvin are the prices, which are remarkably ungreedy for central London, verging on the sensational… Great-value Galvin is all the excuse you need for hanging up your terrine-making apron. Forever."
Jan Moir, the Daily Telegraph

"Between four of us, we sampled half the dishes on the menu, and not one was disappointing… Starters were wonderfully prepared and presented… Mains, too, provoked gasps of pleasure, even before the first bite had been taken… The unanimous verdict was that here was a place that deserves to become as much of a fixture as the Wolseley. The celebs may not flock - traffic-clogged Baker Street is never going to be as big a draw as elegant Piccadilly. But that just leaves all the more room for the rest of us."
Tracey MacLeod, the Independent

"This week I went to a restaurant on Baker Street called Galvin. And I can't imagine ever being miserable again. At least not when I'm inside it… What can I tell you? Galvin is the best restaurant I have lit upon this year. I liked it so much I didn't even bother to write a funny bit about nothing at the top of my article."
Giles Coren, the Times

"I won't waste superlatives, because I need to keep some in reserve for the outright winner among our plats principaux: the best grilled calf's liver I have ever tasted."
Susannah Herbert, the Sunday Telegraph

"I'd love to see a cassoulet on the menu, which Chris's kitchen did so well at the Wolseley. Perhaps, too, a pot au feu or bouillabaisse and maybe in portions to share. Now I'm fantasising about the food I want to eat there. And that has to be a mark of a pleasing restaurant."
Jay Rayner, the Observer

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