Thursday, 28 October 2021

Galvin Bar & Grill at the Kimpton, Bloomsbury

In an ideal world, the grand dining room of a five star hotel in central London would guarantee a wonderful time, a special occasion destination restaurant where you forget your troubles, open your wallet and bathe in the splendour of a world-class hospitality team at the top of their game. The reality is that all too often, bogged down by large, unfocussed menus that try to be all things to all people and that require a kitchen to twist in a hundred different directions at once, hotel restaurants can be remarkably hit and miss. For every Ritz Restaurant (still the absolute peak of hotel dining in the capital) there's somewhere serving a sausagey £25 burger or over-battered fish and chips, and even some of the most respected names can still occasionally get it wrong.

When the Kimpton first opened, their flagship restaurant was the Neptune, somewhere you could order a seafood platter for a pretty-reasonable-actually £38 but which didn't really stand alongside the best places in town and didn't quite set pulses racing. They also committed the unforgivable sin (at least in my opinion) of having shells of interesting creatures like spider crabs and razor clams decorating the raw bar that weren't available to order on the menu. Anyway that's now gone, and in its place in the same glitzy room have arrived the Galvin brothers who know a thing or two about making hotel restaurants work.

And one glance at the menu is enough to reassure that you're in safe hands. The Galvin style is very much "British with a hint of French", meaning things like cottage pie and Dover sole but also their signature Tarte Tatin. Think the Ivy, only good (look, I'm sure you did have a lovely time at the Ivy but I'm also sure it wasn't anything to do with the food). Even house bread is a cut above - this lovely warm sourdough was spiked with Marmite, lending its sticky crumb a pleasant kick of umami.

Crab (from Dorset) came with a neat layer of spiced brown meat on top of a good thick amount of fresh white, and was absolutely everything you'd ever want from a crab starter. And though focussing too much on the prices at a place like this is probably a bad idea overall, I think £16 for this generous amount of hand-picked crab (I even found a teeny bit of shell, so you could tell they'd started with the full animals) isn't bad at all.

In a starter that contains salmon and caviar, why list it on the menu with the title "potato"? Because this was no ordinary potato starter. Even their description of "Warm potato pancake" only goes so far in describing what is one of the more exciting things I've eaten involving the humble spud. More accurately described maybe as a sort of potato mousse, it was so light and fluffy and deliriously richly flavoured that it absolutely lived up to its top billing - the (lovely actually) salmon and caviar and crème fraîche were merely supporting artists to an absolute star of a main ingredient. This was a really exceptional thing, an absolute must-order.

But the fun didn't end there - Dover sole was literally perfect, gently bronzed with butter and with the flesh lifting easily off the bone in solid, meaty fillets. Capers - plenty of them - lightened the load of the butter and there was a torched half of lemon to add any more citrus as required but really you didn't need any distractions from the sole itself, a breathtaking bit of fish.

I'm told the steak offering at Galvin will vary slightly with availability; on this particular evening the only one served on the bone was fillet, so that's the one I had to go for. It may be entirely psychological but I always think steak on the bone is far more interesting with a greater range of textures, and there's a huge amount of fun to be had picking at bones. This particular fillet was - as I'm sure you can tell even from my slightly murky photo - beautifully cooked, with a good dark char and fantastic grass-fed flavour. Accompaniments, including superb fries and a classy béarnaise, were also all faultless.

Tarte tatin, as is usual from a Galvin restaurant, was brilliantly crunchy and sticky and just on the right side of being so sugary you could develop some serious long term condition from taking a second bite. It came with 'clotted cream ice cream' in case you were worried pastry soaked in sugar was a little too worthy.

But best of the desserts was bread and butter pudding "Gary Rhodes", a fitting tribute to the great man as this was just wonderful. Surprisingly easy to eat given the amount of double cream and butter it must contain, with a good amount of vanilla adding an important extra layer of luxury, it was about as far from the a tinned school meal as it was possible to imagine. Genuinely brilliant.

I've been using a lot of superlatives, I know, I'm sorry. The fact is it's so nice to be out somewhere like the Kimpton and eating food like this, that it's hard not to get just a bit carried away. I'll try, though, for the sake of objectivity. Firstly yes, it's pricey - not stupidly so, but £51 is a lot to pay for a 300g steak on the bone, and I think with the obligatory glass of champagne and bottle of wine the bill for two people would be north of £100/head. You can certainly pay the same for worse, but this is not an every day spend. And secondly, and I'm really clutching at straws here thinking of anything that's much of a negative, this huge room does need quite a few people to "come alive", and earlier in the evening with only one or two tables taken it felt a bit soulless. By the time we left though it was buzzing.

And that's really all I have to complain about. Everywhere else where it counts, from the slick service to attractive, accessible menu to the mature, confident dishes themselves, Galvin Bar & Grill delivers in spades, a gleaming, grown-up operation that exudes class and style from the first jolly welcome to the final wave goodbye. Plenty have tried and failed in spaces such as these, but when it works the marriage of glamorous surroundings, attentive front of house and seriously good food is utterly beguiling, enough to make you wonder why there isn't one of these in every 5* in town. The Galvins have hit upon a formula here that puts plenty of other - in fact most other - hotel restaurants to shame, and whats more have the cheek to make the whole thing look easy. It may not, in fact, be easy, but you can let them worry about details like that. All you need to do is bring a wallet and an empty stomach, and they'll take care of the rest.


I was invited to Galvin Bar & Grill and didn't see a bill.

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