The Galvin brothers, Chris and Jeff, have quietly taken over much of London’s dining scene over the decade, and yet they’re not household names. It’s doubtful now that they ever will be, and that probably suits them fine. With their growing portfolio of restaurants encompassing everything from Michelin-starred fine dining to upmarket pubs, it’s interesting to see what their latest opening, a relaunch at the Athenaeum, will accomplish. Will it be dwarfed (literally and figuratively) by their top-floor establishment round the corner, Galvin at Windows, complete with its celebrity maître’d Fred Siriex?
Not a bit of it. The Athenaeum has had something of a refurbishment downstairs, and the bar and restaurant areas now feel slick and contemporary in a way that they never did before. Cocktails are first-class, but the dining room is the main attraction here, thanks to a decision to put the emphasis on British, rather than French, dining and produce. This necessitates some clever twists and spins on signature dishes; for instance, the much-loved crab lasagne comes reborn as a Portland crab linguini, where chilli and coriander give it a welcome hint of spice. A smoked salmon starter comes Instagram-ready and gorgeous, but unlike some recent experiences, it is every bit as nice to eat as it is to look at.
So it continues throughout the main courses. Carnivorous mains of beef rib eye and Herdwick lamb chop benefit from top-quality ingredients, prepared simply but extremely well, and the overall effect is of competence raised to a high art. The service is not just friendly and warm, but scrupulously professional as well, and not without generosity; ordering a carafe of the (excellent) Galvin Bourgogne Chardonnay for the starters, we are also offered a decent-sized ‘taster’ of a delicious English Bacchus, coming from, of all places, Essex. ‘I wouldn’t have believed something this nice would emerge from there’, sighed my companion.
This isn’t a tasting menu kind of place, instead focusing on the a la carte, three-course style. Which is a pity, as I think that it would be lovely to be able to try a greater variety of dishes. But that’s a relatively trivial complaint. Somewhere never much noted for its food before has now been elevated into London’s most interesting restaurants, and Mayfair diners are likely to be delighted at the prospect of somewhere this good – and yet comparatively unpretentious – within easy reach.
By Alexander Larman