Galvin at Windows, London UK
We don’t often get to London and when we do, we don’t often get to laze around and enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of the largest city in the Europe. London is practically awash with fine dining. There are fifty three restaurants with one Michelin star, nine with two stars and two with three stars. You almost don’t know where to look when it comes to choosing somewhere to try when you’re visiting as infrequently as we do. Our home county Norfolk has a paltry two one star restaurants, so a big wave to Morston Hall, who we’ve visited a couple of times, and The Neptune, Hunstanton, where rather embarrassingly we have yet to try.
However, we have in recent memory dined at Galvin at Windows and although thoroughly impressed, we decided on our one night only in London not to repeat ourselves and booked into Dinner by Heston Blumenthal for Sunday lunch, located in the exquisite Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park - our first two star (read: wallet emptying) experience.
However, by a quirky stroke of luck and a generous albeit fairly unnoticed competition on Twitter, I won a meal for two at none other than Galvin at Windows! We had no hesitation in disappointing Heston and diverting our wanton palates in the direction of the 28th floor of the Hilton. I doubt Heston would’ve noticed. If he had, he's never said anything. Hides disappointment well behind those big glasses, does Heston.
So, we entered Galvin at Windows slightly apprehensive and hesitant. Would they know we were there as their guests (I say ‘guests' as ‘competition winners’ sounds so 'commercial radio')? To whom had they given the short straw to have the indignity of having to tell us that we could only have a sandwich or what wasn’t selling well on the ‘Menu du Jour’? We were already bolstered for the disappointing news and decided that whatever they offered we would gladly and gratefully accept and we would pay for anything on top of that. After all, everyone likes a freebie now and then, the sandwiches were guaranteed to be bloody good and we were on the verge of bankrupting ourselves so Heston could buy a new bunsen burner.
If you’ve never been to the 28th floor of the Hilton on the corner of Hyde Park, then perhaps you should. The views are wonderful. The Shard may have taken some of the shine off views as ‘lowly’ as this as a stand alone attraction but consider this; a walk up ticket to The Shard costs five pence short of £30 per adult. For that, you can have something decent to eat AND a view at Windows.
OK, so we got to the reception and gave our names. Immediately we were shown to a window table (not a cold dark corner as we were expecting) and what I can only assume to be the head waiter simply said “Congratulations” and handed us the menus. That was it. Subtle, understated and thoroughly respectful. No Good Morning Britain style camera-in-your-face shenanigans here. They handed us a prize and required nothing in return.
We were given a couple of postcards with the invitation to fill them out and they would send them anywhere in the world. As we didn't know many people outside of the UK (H has an aunt in Australia but didn't know her address), we wrote one out to our eldest son in his new house, and another to our other two at home. A nice fun touch.
As if by magic (to quote 70’s madcap cartoon Mr Benn), a trolley (not a man in an apron) appeared behind me. There were two waiters and an array of cocktails, all in little bottles and test tubes cradled in ice along the theme of medicinal cures to celebrate the football World Cup and I suppose it's corresponding hang-overs. We were shown all varieties and asked which one we’d like before lunch. What? A free cocktail too? It was a surprising start and the childish grins on our faces from this alone would’ve promoted the exceptional service we were getting here already (if I didn’t have a face for radio, that is).
Sipping our newly constructed cocktails, we examined the Sunday Lunch menu. It shone with delicate dishes - five starters, five mains, five desserts.
To begin with, H went for the Salad of green & white asparagus, Parmigiano Reggiano, espelette & garlic mayonnaise, and I the Galvin smoked salmon (I assume it wasn’t Galvins own salmon, say, from an aquarium in his living room), horseradish cream, beetroot, caraway & dill.
At this point, or some point near to this, an extremely polite waitress asked us if we'd like some wine and if there was anything we particularly liked. Well, it was a toss up between Rioja and Shiraz, and within a couple of minutes we were being treated to a bottle of new world Shiraz, our favourite. We clinked glasses and grinned some more. There was to be a lot of grinning to be done.
At another point within this time frame, I'd like to think that I was staring adoringly into H's eyes while I sipped the new world from a large glass. Ordinarily I would, but I was forever being drawn to the view over her shoulders - that of the greenery of Hyde Park and the glittering Serpentine. It was dark the last time we dined here, so I was taking full advantage of the summer sunshine to appreciate the view and not H's gorgeous blue eyes. Shame on me!
We’d never tried white asparagus before and, thinking it was a bit of a gimmick, was surprised at the taste difference. H said it was crunchier, firmer with a slightly onion flavour. I wondered if it affected your 'wee' like green asparagus did. I forgot to ask.
Not all smoked salmon is raised equal. I’m a huge fan and eat it whenever I have the opportunity. Believe me, there’s some rough, chewy stuff out there. You can tell by the graining and the colour whether it’s going to melt in your mouth our wrap around your teeth like a piece of smoky gristle. Look at the above picture. It was a beautiful piece of fish, accompanied by some great tasting sides. The horseradish cream was so good I had to finish it off with some bread and hope nobody noticed me wiping the plate with it. Oh, and the bread. It's something I remember clearly from our last trip here. It's shaped like huge ears of wheat and you tear chunks off, spraying crusty crumbs all over the crisp white table cloth. Definitely worth the embarrassment of a messy table.
For mains, we both copped out and went for the Sunday roast. There were some mouth watering alternatives on the menu - my favourite being the pan fried gilt-head sea bream, seared scallops, tapenade, gnocchi & tomato emulsion. Why I didn’t choose that, I still can’t figure. Must’ve been the pre-lunch cocktail fooling me into something more hearty, and nothing says hearty more than a Sunday roast.
Choosing an 'ordinary' meal from an extraordinary menu is more of a risk than a safe bet. Why? Because you dine in these establishments for food that is out of the ordinary. You can have ordinary any day of the week at home. Choosing an ordinary dish was, in hindsight, probably the wrong decision, but the Shiraz was beginning to dance happily with the Elixir of Love so by this point I wasn't deliberating too hard.
The beef, as expected, was tender and barely needed chewing. It was less roast beef and more fillet steak. The only mild disappointment was not really a disappointment at all. The Yorkshire pudding was crisp, light and, well, just a Yorkshire pudding. It was the perfect accompaniment but I struggle to really comprehend what I was expecting. I expected a Sunday roast and I got one. Delicious but ordinary, as I suppose a Sunday roast should be.
The desserts are always my favourite part of the meal. I try not to eat too much up to this point because missing a dessert because I felt too full would be literally like taking a cooked chicken away from an irritable bodybuilder. Desserts also show different skills from the kitchen and are often just as pretty to look at as they are good to eat.
H chose the lemon cremeux, toasted meringue, oat crumble and raspberry sorbet. The lemon cremeux looked like it was solid, but its extremely thin shell cracked to reveal a creamy, mousse centre. Look at the picture. Doesn't it look amazing? It was.
I chose another ordinary sounding dish, the English strawberry trifle with passion fruit sorbet and I'll swear to you I have NEVER tasted a trifle quite so delicious as this. Creamy, erupting with flavour, sweet and smooth. I could've easily eaten two, but that's not the done thing in a posh place, is it? Maybe one in a doggy bag to take away? Damn, I never thought of that at the time.
And so the lovely folk at Galvin at Windows rounded off our lunch with an offer of dessert wine, which we politely turned down as the new world was still dancing happily with the Elixir, as much coffee we could drink accompanied by deeply chocolatey petite fours, which almost didn’t touch the sides on the way down (a chocoholics weakness), and a large jar of lavender and rhubarb marshmallows, which were so fluffy and light, we could've been eating sweet, moreish cloud. We indulged until we felt a bit nauseous.
Leaving the restaurant with no hint of a bill to pay and nothing else said other than some genuine gratitude on our part and no other mention of our competition win, we walked, nay, slightly staggered into Hyde Park to take pictures of the ducklings on the Serpentine, giggle at the tourists on pedalos and reflect on what a fabulous, almost surreal experience we had just had.
Chris Galvin, Joo Won and Fred Sirieix, we thank you and your delightful staff and salute you and your amazing restaurant. We will be back, but next time with our wallets to buy YOU a drink.
UPDATE: Tuesday morning the postcard arrived much to the delight and excitement of H and I and the underwhelming glance of disinterest from our two children. These things are so wasted on the youth!
- Amazing food
- Superb service
- Unbeatable view
- A brilliant all round experience
- In hindsight, I'd probably not have had the Sunday roast
- I wish we lived nearer
Total bill for two - £0.
10/10 - We will not give out many perfect scores. Galvin at Windows deserves our first. Simply the best and most memorable lunch we’ve EVER had.