The Galvin brothers’ flagship restaurant continues to show just about everywhere in London how to do destination dining.
Sitting pretty at the top of the very uninspiring (and slightly tired) Park Lane Hilton, Galvin at Windows looks every bit as sleek, sexy and downright seductive as the hotel no doubt once did. It’s true that there are some of the very finest views out across the capital (a 48th floor vantage tends to offer that) but this place looks so good inside that it almost doesn’t need that very fine vista - though nobody can really do without a peek into the Queen’s back garden if it’s offered. A chic new bar offers some cracking pre-meal drinks but the restaurant proper remains the main event, with plenty of glass serving up the views and a raised dining space in the centre offering ocular democracy, of sorts. If you can snag a window seat then you really must, but it’s certainly not the be all and end all of dining at this seductively brilliant spot.
No doubt aided considerably by some of the very best service in London (with Fred Sirieix heading the team – you might recognise him from ‘Michel Roux’s Service’), the atmosphere is pretty darn pleasant, and impeccably in line with the food, funnily enough; just as there’s accessible refinement on the menu, there’s the same kind of feel to the restaurant itself. The staff really are very good, combining extensive knowledge across all the menus with an ability to bend over backwards for even the fussiest of diners. There’s a certain sense of occasion to proceedings, given that for many this is a place in which to celebrate, but it’s all mixed with a semblance of informality too, for one of the very best dining experiences our dear old London town has to offer.
It’s at places such as Galvin at Windows that those Michelin dinosaurs seem to get things very right indeed (Windows retained its star for the third year running in 2012). André Garrett’s regularly brilliant menus offer dishes that are delicate, crafted and restrained but not without a serious thwack of sturdy flavour, and while (much like their other Michelin-starred restaurant, La Chapelle) it’s more refined than their bistros (Bistro de Luxe and Café a Vin) it keeps to a common theme throughout the group’s venues: namely one of punchy, powerful flavours executed perfectly. It’s the kind of food that puts you in just as tricky a situation as Buridan’s ass, stuck between snarfling it down like a pig at a trough, and not wanting it to end. Paralysing indecision rarely tastes this good.
The ‘menu prestige’ at £65 for three courses actually offers some pretty good value, considering the quality of the cooking. A scallops ceviche starter with kohlrabi, cucumber, ruby grapefruit and soy is the kind of clean, concise dish that paves the way perfectly for the sturdier mains, as does a beautifully balanced salad of heirloom tomatoes, watermelon and bocconcini, with black olive caramel and basil infusing this light, fresh dish with a bit of salty, fragrant richness.
Mains showcase the kind of staunch, strapping flavours that the Galvin restaurants do so well, with a loin of Scottish venison and beautiful little beignets of pork shoulder served with smoked Alsace bacon, red cabbage and sauce grand-veneur. The venison is exquisite, and impeccably handled, but it’s the grand-veneur (or huntsman’s sauce) that really sets it off, with its sweet depth the perfect, classic match to such a quality bit of game. Grouse is superb too, hung perfectly, breast cut and roasted before being served with pancetta, confit leg, pearl barley, mushrooms and a surprisingly light prune and red wine jus astute enough to let the richness of the grouse come through in swathes. Balanced yet still weighty, these are the kinds of dishes that prove there are some very able hands in that kitchen indeed.
Desserts are always impressive here, but the peanut butter parfait is something pretty exquisite, even if it’s so rich only the truly dedicated will reach all the way through to its caramel centre, as well as finish the accompanying popcorn ice cream… one must suffer for one’s art. Cheese from La Fromagerie is suitably impressive too, and well-chosen.
It is a place in which to celebrate, so you’re likely to see plenty of bubbly being sipped, and there’s an extensive selection of champagne available, ranging from by the glass options (£12.75-£35) right up to bottles of vintage Louis Roederer at over a grand. If the champagne selection is extensive, it’s dwarfed by a very impressive wine list that features the best of France and beyond, and although it might look a little daunting, the expert service extends to the sommelier, too.
An impressive number are available by the glass, with prices starting at a very reasonable £4 for a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc but if you do want to push the boat out then you can easily do so, taking in the Loire Valley (try the Domaine Champalou Vouvray at £39), Burgundy (a great selection of Chablis), Luxembourg, Austria, Italy, Spain, the US and Australia.
The Last Word
Its lofty heights may offer (almost) unparalleled views of the capital, but the food, setup and team ensure it remains head and shoulders above most of its competition anyway. Windows is somewhere to gloat about, so go and then do so - it's rather fun.