|Salmon tartare with potato gazpacho|
New Year, new job, and it looks like I have finally joined the international jet set. I write this sitting in hotel room in Frankfurt, having flown in yesterday to do a 20 minute presentation, before I fly out again in a couple of hours. Mind you, I haven’t actually left the hotel yet, so can’t tell you anything about Germany’s financial powerhouse, beyond the number of tall and slightly ugly buildings.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that I've spent quite a lot of time on a plane so far this year. Today’s flight will be my 13th (yikes) since January, and with a trip to Prague this weekend and another to New York on Monday, I will be on 16 before the week is out.
With all this time in airports and planes to kill, I have become a serial downloader from the BBC Iplayer. Why do anything useful with your free time when you can stare blankly at a screen? Imagine my delight, therefore, when I was browsing the other day and found all seven episodes of Floyd on France waiting for me.
Jesus Christ, just watching the effervescent Floyd puts pretty much every other gimpy, celebrity chef who appears on the box these days in the shade. That famous scene where the bow-tied Floyd gets a verbal shellacking from a stern Basquaise madame for his substandard piperade (“les poivrons sont cru! Il n y a pas de sel, pas de poivre…”) is worth the licence fee alone!
Great television it might be, but Floyd’s food now looks terribly old-fashioned next to our modern tastes. All escalope de veau a la sauce moutarde and lapin aux pruneaux, it doesn't sit well with the current foodie zeitgeist of Southern BBQ meets Taiwanese street food (yes I have been to Bao by the way) via a portion of kimchi and a kale and sweet potato falafel.
Hang that though, because actually I don’t give a toss, and love classic French food. Given me a carré d’agneau avec pommes dauphinoise any day over a steamed pork bun. (Well, maybe not every day, or it’s farewell to my 32in waistline, but definitely any day).
There are plenty of places in London to find great examples of this type of food (alas my fave the Green and French Horn just closed) and Galvin Bistrot de Luxe is surely one of them. Run by the talented Galvin brothers, it is a platonic ideal of a classic French bistro on a particularly boring stretch of Baker Street (FYI, I’m now writing on the plane).
VD and I have history here, as it was one of the first places I brought her on a fancy date when we started going out. As a student at the time, she couldn’t quite believe her luck at meeting a suave, sophisticated, wealthy man about town who bought her dinner in such places (could it explain why I got lucky that evening?).
Of course, times have changed: once you start living with your other half and, like I do, get morning bollockings for eating porridge too loudly and having Radio 4 on in three different rooms, you feel less inclined to splash out on fancy dinners. Nevertheless, an early evening offer of three courses plus aperitif for £23.50 forced me to dust off my credit card and see if my prejudices regarding set deals on restaurant booking websites held true.
Having been to Galvin before, I didn’t recall there being many bad tables in the house - perhaps around the corner next to the bogs isn’t ideal - and despite our lowly prix fixe status, ours wasn't there. So that was the first prejudice dealt with straight off.
Number two on the list is a short, boring menu with little to choose from; just the crap the kitchen can’t get rid of otherwise. Short it was, with three options per course to choose from, but boring it wasn't: salmon tartare with potato gazpacho, gilthead bream a la plancha, shoulder of veal with prunes and pearl barley, and pear clafoutis all sound tempting enough, don’t they?
Thirdly, and lastly, we come to the service. Aside from a certain briskness and an instruction to order our dessert at the same time as the starter and main, it couldn't really be faulted. The apertifs, a kir royal made with a Saumur brut, took a while to turn up, while the starters arrived remarkably quickly, but you can’t have it both ways.
So, with none of my usual gripes to ruin a good evening, I was left to enjoy the food. I had little doubt it was going to be excellent and wasn't disappointed. VD’s starter of salmon and potato gazpacho trumped my well-made chicken and ham hock terrine, and was genuinely top class. The salmon came hidden under a frothing, foamy pillow of the gazpacho that managed to be both rich and refreshing, without a hint of starchiness.
I got my own back, however, with the terrifically tender veal shoulder and pearl barley. This was a cut above VD’s alliterative bream with beetroot and broccoli, which was worthy but a trifle dull. Mind you, I am sucker for anything that comes with a prune; you could serve me bath sponge aux pruneaux and I’d probably wolf it down without complaint.
For dessert, the pear clafoutis – though less clafoutis and more pear frangipane tart without the pastry – was a triumph. The addition of almond to the batter was inspired, giving it a new and tastier dimension. My strawberry trifle with praline was good, although it didn't leave a huge impression on me, judging by the fact I can’t really remember what it looked like a few days later.
What else to say then? Not much, aside from the fact that the set menu plus aperitif is a genuine bargain. Especially as it is available in the evening until 7pm, which is just about an acceptable time to sit down to dinner.
Finally, I should point out that I was offered said meal by the guys at bookatable.com, and yes, they have paid for it, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a fluffy PR-driven, hagiography. I've already told various chums to book in a trip on the strength of this visit, and in any case, it takes more than one free feed to buy my good opinion!
Galvin Bistrot de Luxe
66 Baker Street
London W1U 7DJ
+44 (0) 20 7935 4007