The original and still the best
· Lovers of classic French cooking
· Carnivores with a lust for comfort food
· Anyone with a taste for traditional cooking practices
· Fans of well thought-through wine pairings
Confession – this isn’t my first visit to the original Galvin restaurant; but it has been a while. I first came here a decade ago just before my wedding with my father and best men to discuss the forthcoming logistics. The fact that I can vividly remember the taste and texture of the cote d’boeuf is testament to just how exceptional a meal we had. Ten years on – has it maintained its levels of excellence?
Bistrot de Luxe was the very first Galvin restaurant to grace our shores. But let’s be clear – this isn’t a concept, it’s a proven experience. It’s a perfect illustration of the traditional French Bistrot complete with dark wood, globe lighting, impossibly white table cloths, and impeccably smart, incredibly knowledgeable waiting staff. The menus remain an absolute cornerstone of classic French comfort cuisine laced with subtle modern twists that introduce hints of smart innovation to a range of timeless bistro dishes. Everything is wrapped up with an absolute focus on the highest quality ingredients, and a dedication to utterly faultless preparation, that makes Galvin’s premier restaurant capable of being both an exciting culinary experience and a safe place to return time after time. Rarely can a restaurant be all things to all people – Galvin has made an art of doing just that.
The restaurant is so perfectly designed for its Parisian image you have to walk outside again just to check you’re still in London. It just feels right. You want a French Bistrot experience? You can go nowhere else in this city that compares. The Bentwood chairs, the banquette seating, the leather, the wood, the floor tiles – it’s all planned, all authentic, and it all works. The place feels welcoming, cossetting, and homely but as soon as you sit down you realise that the relaxed setting lulls you into a false sense of security. This is a tightly run restaurant, offering truly fine dining, with military-grade precision and attention to detail. This is embodied by Marco, the restaurant manager for the last three years, who knows every inch of the menu, the image, the hardware, the kitchen staff, the cooking processes, and the wines. He gives you such confidence in the restaurant that you effortlessly let him take you on a journey of his own design, feeling completely comfortable with his recommendations and advice. It’s never intrusive, always helpful and always friendly. You’re treated as a fellow food lover and appreciator of fine cuisine – never simply a customer.
Galvin’s food may be outstanding but it’s made all the more exceptional but the restaurant’s ability to pair it with extraordinary wines sought from across the globe. Not content with buying in some of the very best from across the old and new worlds, Head Sommelier Andrea Briccarello has selected a range of superb wines and a truly epic tawny port for the brand’s own label. We’re thrilled to be offered the chance to sample his choice of wine pairings along with our food and it elevates the meal from excellent to truly special.
My partner begins with Galvin’s own champagne as an aperitif, whilst I sample the own-brand red. The champagne is light, creamy – not overly Brut and a perfect starting point for the meal. The red, a Cotes du Rhone mixing Grenache and Syrah grapes is full bodied – a lot of berries and a peppery finish. It’s a little too heavy for me as a first point of entry, I prefer a lighter red, but most would welcome its warmth at the outset.
Bread arrives as we contemplate the menu. It’s not an extensive selection – quite short in fact – but I challenge anyone to review the options and find nothing they desire. The bread is beautifully chewy and sour with a crust so crisp it could draw blood. The butter is France through and through – salty and heavy giving the knife real resistance as it cut its way through. We select two signature dishes for starters – crab lasagne and steak tartare – neither novel nor unusual in isolation and thus both need to be special to be memorable. They absolutely are.
Crab lasagne consists of elegant thin layers of fresh pasta, interlaced with a decadent scallop mousse and an abundance of flaked Dorset white crab meat smothered in a heavy beurre nantais. This hollandaise-style sauce with added cream delivers a citrus sharpness that cuts through the richness of the dish and overall delivers a rich luxury taste that’s light enough to leave you wanting more.
Steak tartare is hard to get right and very easy to get very, very wrong – this is the best I’ve ever had. Considerable chunks of fresh red meat laced with tangy mustard and ketchup, smartly topped with a fresh egg yolk of such velvet it defies belief. The juxtaposition of the creamy yolk and the tart meat makes it perfectly heavy and light in equal measure. It’s sublimely balanced and a true work of art.
For mains we select two heavy meat dishes. My partner choses a prime piece of grain-fed USDA beef – a bavette steak with creamed and braised celeriac and wild garlic. It comes cooked the way most people see a steak in their dreams. Charred on the outside with a crust whose perfection is audible when tapped with a knife. Underneath, a perfectly pink medium rare piece of meat that takes no effort to slice, and melts away almost before the second chew. The creamed celeriac is standard fayre but the wild garlic is a fabulous addition that provides additional layers of both texture and flavour.
I opt for another signature dish – pan fried calves liver with spring greens and pomme puree. Liver is one of those hardcore tests for a quality restaurant. So often it’s either overcooked and leathery, or undercooked and mushy. This is, without doubt, the finest example of perfectly cooked liver I have ever had. Crisp on the outside with a burst of savoury flavours, and slightly pink yet creamy on the inside. The potato puree is perfectly soft but it’s the charred greens, silky and buttery on the outside, with crunch from the al dente core, which steal the show. When combined with the creamy savoury liver it becomes an explosion of textures and taste that makes every mouthful cause my eyes to roll back in my head. It’s a dish that makes you want to eat as slowly as physically possible because you know it will eventually have to end. I challenge anyone to try it and proclaim it as anything other than regal.
Both dishes are paired with a rather excellent Bordeaux – a 2012 Saint Emilion Chateau du Beau Vallon. As our sommelier explains, pairing with steak is relatively simple but pairing with liver is extremely hard. The metallic aftertaste gets exacerbated by anything with too much tannin and so Galvin’s team has selected a Bordeaux from the left bank of the region for its lightness and fruit. It’s an exquisite accompaniment that, incredibly, adds yet another dimension to the food on our plates.
I know I’ve waxed lyrical about everything being great so far, so let me balance that by stating that the desserts are good rather than great. I don’t see this as too much of an issue as the main course and starter were good enough to not even need one. I select a strawberry soufflé with basil ice cream, my partner has the apple tarte tatin with crème fraiche. The soufflé is light with a perfectly crisp top, rich in fruit and offset beautifully with the rich basil ice cream. But the fruit is almost too much and the soufflé, whilst perfect in creation, is so large it’s become a challenge to devour (maybe that’s the fault of the previous two courses). I am sad to leave half of it behind. It’s paired with a wonderful Australian 2014 Montevecchio Moscato. Light at 5% and very fruity with massive notes of elderflower. A real refresher after a wonderful but heavy meal and a welcome retreat into lightness and delicacy. It’s utterly magnificent and exactly what’s required. It is also one of the very first sparkling wines in London available on tap. Briccarello has been working hard on introducing this innovation across all Galvin restaurants and claims it has ‘changed his life’. It’s yet another a demonstration that amidst the classic tradition displayed at Bistrot de Luxe beats the heart of an inventive original team keen to show the rest of this town how to maintain a pioneering ethos without compromising on quality.
Tarte tatin is quite heavy – lovely overtones of burnt caramel and sugar but slightly tart, overpowering fruit that can’t be counterbalanced even by a superbly sweet and sticky 2012 sauternes displaying incredible peach and lychee flavours. Perhaps it’s the addition of crème fraiche as opposed to a sweetened cream that pushes it over, or perhaps my partner just has too much of a sweet tooth?
It’s a solid end to the meal but it was never likely to join the dots with the impressive starters and mains we’ve already consumed.
Value for money
When you add up the look, the feel, the food, the drink and the service this should be an incredibly expensive meal. And it can be – if you run riot across the a la carte menu. But outside this foolish endeavour there is true value to be found in Baker Street’s best. When Bistrot de Luxe first launched its set menu was priced at £15.50 for three courses. Ten years on it remains the same. It’s incredible value for the quality of food on offer and although the options are limited they are all interesting, authentic French dishes that should satisfy all but the fussiest diner. The restaurant’s four course tasting menu, which includes an aperitif, is priced at just £25 – extraordinary. If you pair a wine with each course it’s another £19 but based on the quality of the pairings and the wines we have enjoyed it’s worth every penny. There is a lot of competition in this part of London for good French food but nothing comes close to this combination of quality and price. It’s a hidden gem of dining excellence and should be cherished by those with a love of quality food.
66 Baker Street
London W1U 7DJ
+44 207 935 4007