Sunday, 8 February 2015

Wonderful Windows

It was the marshmallows. They were what did it. They looked so innocent and enticing; pastel-coloured cubes of sweetness sitting in their jar. The lightness of the desserts had revived me after I was flagging at the end of the main course. But the marshmallows - and I only had two of them - they made me feel as if I were going to explode. I can't stay mad at them though. They, along with everything else at Galvin at Windows, were served up to please us. And, like everything else, they succeeded.

We'd first heard of Galvin at Windows a few years ago, courtesy of an excellent BBC 2 series called 'Service.' Fronted by Michel Roux Jr., Service followed the journey of a number of young people looking to make their mark in the service industry. I wrote about it not long after it finished in fact. Anyway, assisting Roux in mentoring the youngsters was a French front-of-house expert called Fred Siriex who headed up - and indeed still heads up - the serving team at Galvin at Windows. So, we'd known about the restaurant for some time but had never got round to visiting. Was it worth the wait...? You could say that.

From the moment we stepped out of the lift on the 28th floor of the Hilton on Park Lane, we were treated to a memorable experience. As its name suggests, Windows offers spectacular views of London from almost every seat, and ours didn't disappoint, looking out over Park Lane and Baker Street. Right from the start, the atmosphere seemed relaxed and warm. Upon reaching our table we were presented with two postcards which we could address to anywhere in the world, and the restaurant would send them on our behalves.

Even more impressively, we were presented with a complementary glass of Champagne each, courtesy of the aforementioned Monsieur Siriex. I'd tweeted him earlier in the week to say we were visiting and ask if he'd be working that night. Though he wasn't, he still arranged for us to receive the drinks (I checked the bill afterwards and they were indeed complementary). It was an amazing touch, which I can't imagine would be replicated at many restaurants. We'd already decided to go for the Menu Degustation - the tasting menu with accompanying wines - some time before, so it wasn't long before our bread was delivered and the meal could begin.

The amuse bouche was a velvet-smooth artichoke veloute which coated a cluster of potato, truffle shavings and ham. This was served up with a small crispbread covered in chicken liver parfait and it would've made a great 'proper' course. The first course proper was even better however. Seared Scottish scallops sensationally submerged in shellfish bisque with sea vegetables. The scallops were cooked perfectly, still slightly springy with an expertly seared exterior. The greens added further crunch and the bisque was so intensely flavoured I wouldn't have been surprised if a lobster had popped out.

Next up was a ballotine of foie gras, served up with prunes, orange purée, crumbled gingerbread and a slab of sweet brioche. Again, this was a perfectly balanced dish, with the richness of the foie gras nicely offset by the sweet prunes and bread and finished with the merest of heat from the crunchy gingerbread. What a start to the meal.

The fish course consisted of a flaky hunk of halibut surrounded by a rich ragout of mushrooms. Think Birds Eye Cod in Mushroom sauce, but elevated to food heaven. The fish was coated by another deeply flavoured shellfish emulsion and the whole dish was another delight.

Onto the main course, which was, unusually, pork. To be precise, a medallion of Iberico pork, served pink with cavolo nero, cubes of pork cheek, a smooth carrot and cumin purée and a spiced sauce. This was finished off with a mini crispy spring roll, which contained another helping of the pork cheek. Salty, sweet, spongy and spicy; this main was another excellent dish, though the richness and the generosity of the portion size had me considering loosening my belt.

Thankfully both the pre-dessert and dessert itself were light and not overly sweet, perfect for settling my seriously strained stomach. The former was a sharp rhubarb compote enveloping a fluffy chocolate mousse and orange foam. This delightful goo was sprinkled with some spheres of popping candy to add flavour and texture. The latter was a floaty-light nougat parfait coated with crunchy Muscavado meringues. Persimmon purée added sharpness while a quenelle of unusual black pepper ice cream provided both coolness and heat.

We chose to finish our meal with a coffee each (served with pleasant petit fours), though we chickened out of the offer of a digestif spirit, having had wine with each course. The marshmallows I mentioned earlier - cherry and apple flavoured - were served up with the bill.

Our meal was brilliant but what really made the whole evening was the service. Warm and informal throughout and a marked contrast to the slight stuffiness of Dinner, where we'd eaten a couple of weeks previously. The pacing was great throughout, with no overly-long waits but also no sense of being rushed. The waiting staff and sommelier explained each course and wine in detail and answered any questions we threw at them. The gift of the Champagne was the icing on the most wonderful of cakes.

I have no idea what criteria the Michelin inspectors use to award their stars but I'm baffled that Galvin at Windows has only one. This was easily one of the best meals, and indeed evenings, we've ever had, and we'd definitely visit again. 


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