Thursday, 24 May 2007

Galvin at Windows, Hilton Park Lane

On the 28th floor of the Hilton Park Lane, there's a restaurant tipped for its first Michelin star next year. Officially tipped that is, with something called an 'Espoir', handed out by Michelin to places which aren't quite good enough "yet". I'm not sure I agree with this new system; if somewhere is tipped to get one soon, is that a guaranteed thing? Or can an espoir sometimes come to nothing? If somewhere isn't quite good enough yet, why not just wait and give it a proper star next year, rather than just tease them with an Espoir before finally saying "ah no, actually turns out your truffle veloute wasn't actually as good as I remembered, we'll have that Espoir back thank you very much". Furthermore, if an Espoir becomes a coveted title in its own right, the natural progression is for Michelin to start giving out "Espoir Espoirs", for places that are likely to be good enough next year to get a Michelin star the year after that. It all just seems a bit silly.

However, if it is possible to get any satisfaction from such a flimsy accolade, then Galvin at Windows should. The quality of the food and ingredients was in the most part very good, and the level of service as you would expect from anywhere starry.

Service was attentive to the point of mania at times, with very cross words exchanged between two waiters who noticed that one of our party had to fill his own glass up with water. Staff were so desperate to pass the "napkin test" that they whipped the napkin out of mid-air just as I dropped it on my seat on the way to the toilet. It seemed that the relatively cramped room was stuffed so full of waiters there was barely enough room for the customers, and it was all a bit overwhelming at first, but it's funny how a glass of Aperitif du Maison (a Strawberry Bellini) can soon settle the mind.

The amuse-bouches were really really great. A kind of truffle-infused cracker with a heavily flavoured goats cheese pate on top, very difficult to describe but incredible flavour and texture contrasts. Went down very well with all concerned.

A starter of Asparagus Veloute and soft-boiled quails egg was full of flavour and looked very pretty. It was a good example of how to make something delicious and unpretentious but still make it look like it belonged in an haute-cuisine dining room. However by the end of the bowl the seasoning was getting a little too overwhelming - a complaint that carried to some degree through all the dishes on offer. Seasoning is a very personal thing, and for any chef you will find as many people that think they underseason than overseason, but I have to say, based on my own experience, that Galvin really likes his salt.

The main was really lovely - Coquelet (kind of a teenage chicken apparently, somewhere between a normal chicken and a poussin) with onion and thyme tart, with shallot puree and spinach. There were also some hazelnuts scattered around the plate which gave a great texture contrast. Lots of nice flavours that worked very well together and nothing too weird - classic French cooking really and very enjoyable.

The only slight disappointment was the dessert, which was a very nice subtley-flavoured cheesecake, well presented and surrounded by mini strawberries, good stuff, but with a great big blob of hugely overpowering strawberry sorbet on top, which I had to scrape off and eat separately. A real shame because the cheesecake was really delicious, and so was the sorbet, but together, a bit like a fight between Joe Calzaghe and Russell Brand, there could really only be one winner.

A few interesting little sweeties rounded off the meal, including a delicious homemade chocolate truffle and a slightly less nice passion fruit jelly, which was quite bitter and a bit odd. All-in-all though, it seems those Michelin guys are right on the money once again in spotting a good thing, and I'm sure with a few of the rough edges ironed out we will see the Espoir converted into a first star in 2008. And best of luck to them.


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