I can't remember who it was, but somebody once explained to me their theory of the relationship between the quality of a meal and the altitude it is served at. Apparently, so the theory goes, you will have a worse meal the higher up you go. So starting in your Michelin-starred basement restaurants like The Greenhouse, Hakkasan and Le Gavroche, where the atmosphere is hushed and exclusive and the food divine, all the way up to the most extreme example - airline food - microwaved, over-salted slop eaten with your neighbours elbows jabbing into your ribs. And somewhere in the middle we have the "revolving restaurant" category, reliant largely on the tourist trade and unimaginative soppy couples after a nice view, serving overpriced, mediocre food. I'm thinking particularly of the Oxo Tower restaurant and the Coq d'Argent - awful places which if they didn't have the added value of a sweeping backdrop would have closed years ago.
But like all good theories, it's the exceptions that prove the rule. And although Galvin at Windows, perched high atop of the 28-storey Hyde Park Hilton on Park Lane, would no doubt do very well fleecing its well-heeled clientele with a "never mind the food, check out the view" attitude, they have thankfully decided to go down a much different route. The meal I had last night (sorry no photo of the menu, but I had this one) was not only presented in front of a vista that stretched from Wembley Stadium to Hampstead Heath but consisted of some of the most accomplished dishes I'd eaten for many months.
Let's start with the bread, which came in two variations - a wholemeal and a white olive bread. A slightly chewy crust on the white perhaps but a good flavour, and the butter was lovely and spreadable.
Amuse of tomato gelée did its job perfectly well. The tomato flavours were fresh and the gelée was actually a very good texture - not too off-puttingly solid but thick enough to scoop onto the spoon. Young basil leaves provided colour and a nice Italian flavour combination. Pretty little thing, isn't it?
My starter was a slab of seared Landes foie gras sat on top of a soft gingerbread biscuit and surrounded by semi-dried grapes and a kind of honey jus. The best foie gras recipes never muck about with the liver too much, and this was true to that form, being just interesting enough to be worth its paycheck while still allowing the rich, creamy foie to star. It's also, as you can just about tell from the picture, a hugely generous portion for a starter, and my waiter was kind enough during ordering to point out that the beef also comes with more foie and did I want to reconsider? Of course I didn't.
Once I'd polished off the cruelly inflated goose organ, another unannounced mini course arrived, of Mesclun (baby leaf) salad, balsamic and goats cheese. This was my least favourite course, which although perfectly pleasant in a salady kind of way didn't really have anything to lift it out of the mundane. The baby leaves were just that, and the goats cheese seemed a bit timid. I fully admit I'm not really a salad person, though, so maybe if all you're used to is lentils and quiche then this you'd probably think this was brilliant.
The main course finally arrived in the form of a cute little pink medallion of beef fillet, a slow-roasted portion of fatty rib topped with another generous slab of foie gras, and a colourful selection of caramelised roasted veg. And you could hardly fault any of it. The beef was cooked perfectly, the fillet well-seasoned and smooth in texture and the rib section meltingly tender with its slivers of juicy fat. Vegetables were bitesize examples of perfect French cooking, each a self-contained, juicy canapé and great fun to eat. I have, admittedly, tasted better beef - but then the fillet steak is never really just about the raw flavour, particularly not in French cooking, and it still tasted great.
Sadly, we didn't have room for desserts, but that didn't stop various final petits fours arriving, including a juicy raspberry chocolate, very fruity strawberry marshmallows and a startling little sphere of crispy salty caramel with a liquid centre. We ate them as the sun was setting over the Wembley Stadium arch.
You'd have to be very, very unlucky not to enjoy an evening at Galvin. This is a mature, confident kitchen serving Michelin-star standard food, and has even improved since my last visit in 2007. That it was totally booked up on a Thursday night in the middle of a recession is not really a mystery - what is a mystery is why the Espoir (rising star) I spoke about in the 2007 review has not yet come good. From what I can gather, the food is definitely up to scratch - at least as good as that served at Chez Bruce, for example. But then, who cares what Michelin think these days - increasingly not anyone who's opinions I trust. All you need to know is that the the service and the food at Galvin @ Windows is as good as you can hope for in this price bracket (it's not cheap - £58 for three courses), and you can certainly do a lot worse. Oh yes - and the view's not bad either.