Published 4 May 2021
Ahead of Galvin at Windows 15th anniversary, CODE catches up with chef patron Chris Galvin as the restaurant gets ready to reopen on 17 May with a new head chef
Galvin at Windows fits comfortably between London’s stalwarts of gastronomy and its new, casual restaurants well detached from classical French cooking. It is neither timeless and old like The Ritz nor fiercely modern like Brat or Bright. Still, 15 years is an impressive length of time to continuously fill a dining room in a challenging industry, not least one more recently ravaged by Covid-19 and the perils of Brexit.
The restaurant has not been without acclaim, but similarly, it has not been immune to difficulty. Last year, Galvin at Windows lost its star, having held one for nearly its entire tenure up there atop Hilton Park Lane. It is hard to say why, but tiredness can set in. Famous faces – it is impossible not to mention TV’s Fred Sireix here, who made the front of house sing – move on, and new chefs, in this case the young and talented Marc Hardimann, arrive. Change brings a degree of uncertainty and there is always the need to adapt to not just survive, but to sustain.
Galvin at Windows is not defined by its lost star, however – we might also question the awards generally in 2020, given the context of the time. What’s more, despite that fact, it continues to be a success, that is, it is still here, serving guests when not restricted by the government and unable to do so.
As the venue marks its 15 year anniversary, it is only looking to celebrate, and why wouldn’t it? This June 11-26, the restaurant will host a retrospective of sorts, pouring nostalgia onto tablecloths with dishes from Jeff and Chris, as well as past head chefs Andre Garrett and Joo Woon. Its new leading man Marc will also join the brigade. Each will cook a course each, fusing old with new (menu below).
CODE caught up with Chris Galvin, ahead of Galvin at Windows’ birthday dinner series, to talk about 15 years 28 floors above London, and spending the last of those behind mostly closed doors.
“I’m not sure where 15 years has gone. It’s been quite amazing. We’ve been one of the few restaurants that has stayed there on Park Lane. We opened with Andre Garrett and Fred Sirieix – it was a winning combination and we quickly found our feet.
“Our biggest challenge to begin with was being so high up in the air. We were always competing with the view. As a youngster, I read about chefs who tried and failed with restaurants high up. We said come on, let’s give people a reason to come up and marvel at London. But let’s try and match it with our food.
“We know customers are coming for the view and the bar, we said, but let’s put a big great show on. Fred historically did an incredible job – he was a real ringmaster. And Andre quickly got a star, and every day we opened, I never tired of it.”
“Restaurants are about evolution – we have a reputation but we have had to change and adapt too. We visit suppliers and vineyards and we always made sure we looked ahead as much as we wanted to establish ourselves as something prominent with good standing.
“There was always this dichotomy of two Essex boys cooking French food. All we’ve tried to do is cook seasonally, and we’re always inspired by the market. We still get up early and do all that. And we do this quietly – it should be expected. We don’t need to chime on about local produce. That’s just the nature of a good restaurant. I think our customers knew that and respected us for it.”
“We’ve survived disasters by listening to our guests. We always go to farms to continue relationships with producers. We talk to fishermen. We’ve been lucky to see a huge movement in wine. All it is is good husbandry. We demand to know where stuff really comes from. And we cut through the crap. Our customers trust us.”
“We kept everyone through lockdown – I’m so proud. I was shocked when I interviewed people for new jobs and found out about the amount of people who were just told to go. After years of service, just gone.
“We’ve always wanted to look after our staff – we’ve been progressive in that respect too. I also want to mention Michael Shepherd, the GM at Hilton Park Lane – he and the hotel have been great over the 15 years. They’ve shown fabulous support and it’s been a secret to our success. Our customers have been supportive too.”
“We’ve got a new head chef, Marc Hardiman. He came from The Ritz and he’s outstanding. His food deserves its own platform. We’ve been cooking together throughout lockdown and he’s brought some great touches. He’s been cooking with me and Jeff.
“First, we’re looking forward to pulling the curtain back and celebrating. Our five-course menu is a look back and a look forward. The dishes are brilliant and our new GM, Peter Avis, will do a top job. I think it will be wonderful and a great way to return. We’re ready to push on now and achieve more.”
There is sentiment to be found at Galvin at Windows, a restaurant that has tip-toed around the height it has been afforded by design and by accolades. After 15 years, it has built a reputation. It may yet salvage its forgotten star. But first, a birthday party, and an open restaurant.
Starter: Crab lasagne with beurre nantaise by Chef Patron Jeff Galvin
First course: Kimchi risotto by Joo Woon (2013-2020)
Second course: Confit Loch Duart salmon with broccoli, crème fraîche & caviar by André Garrett
Main course: Dry-aged grass-fed beef fillet, short rib tartlet, yeast carrot & lovage by current head Marc Hardiman
Dessert: Apple tarte Tartin by Chef patron Chris Galvin
The above tasting menu will be available and bookable at £150 (inc. wine pairings) and £100 excluding wine pairings for lunch and dinner on Wednesday to Saturday.