It’s the night of the year when only stalkers and the unhinged dine out.
But if I had to go somewhere on Valentine’s Day, without a gun being held to my head, I’d make a furtive beeline for 22 Park Lane, Mayfair and take the lift to the 28th floor.
Because I know I’d be safe here: safe from the bunny boilers; the padded, red fabric Valentine card brigade; and the panting “look darling, I’m not wearing any knickers” diners. And that is because Fred Sirieix is in charge.
Fred, general manager at Galvin at Windows, is one of those hospitality professionals who possess the unique gift of making the problems of the world melt away. I feel safe with Fred about. I know I could dine at Windows on February 14 without being disturbed by the practitioners of ritualistic tabletop tongue tennis.
The restaurant, with its peerless views over central London, is undisputedly romantic. There is always a wonderful atmosphere in the bar where the window tables make a wonderful spot for sipping a classic cocktail or a glass or two of Champagne. This much I can appreciate. It’s just that I find it hard to turn on the burbling fountain of love and longing simply to coincide with the commercial imperatives of Hallmark Cards, Roses R Us and the producers of heart-shape chocolate boxes.
Galvin at Windows sits on top of the London Hilton and although the day-time view is fabulous, it is at night-time that the bar – and the restaurant – take on a special character. The place just oozes glamour and a shiver of excitement.
I arrive at the restaurant hot foot from an event at the Irish Embassy, where they forced me to drink Guinness. I am joined for dinner by Emy, my niece, who is a dab hand at baking and drinking, which is always a winning combination.
After a requisite half bottle of Champagne in the bar, we are escorted through for the main event. The dining room is an oblong shape, jutting out into thin air, with a central raised area and smaller tables flanked along the sides and front of the room, offerring the most spectacular outlook. Our table looks out over the upper reaches of Park Lane.
It doesn’t take long to fall under the spell of the place and the magic continues as dinner unfolds. The Michelin-star kitchen is under the management of head chef Joo Won, a Korean with a passion for French haute cuisine. It is Won’s job to make sure the restaurant’s 100-plus guests leave the place feeling luxuriously fed, a nerve-shredding task he completes with aplomb.
We dine from the menu prestige, which at £68 for three courses – with pre-starters and pre-desserts – offers good value for a special occasion treat, particularly when you take into consideration the ambiance. You also get one of London’s best drilled teams of waiters, courtesy of that smooth operator Sirieix.
The quality of the produce is what it should be here: superb. Plumpcious seared Scottish king scallops are served with sweetcorn purée and slow-cooked pork belly. Won showcases some Asian tricks with teriyaki marinated Loch Fyne salmon, Dorset crab and pickled cabbage. The dish is savoury, sweet and sharp, all rolled into one.
Emy has the roasted monkfish for her main. Again, the fish is in tip-top condition, perfectly cooked, served with orange glazed endive, cauliflower purée, pine nuts, shellfish reduction and spice oil.
I do something mad. I have steak. Unless I am at a steak restaurant, I don’t have steak because it’s about the only thing I can both cook and source really well via my local butcher. But I am sucker for big French classic licks and when I see the Cumbrian beef Rossini has foie gras and truffle I am in, hook, line and le sinker. It is splendidly over the top, expertly cooked.
We leave the wine choices to sommelier Romain Crozat, whose dazzling selections work brilliantly throughout the meal, including a Domaine Faury Côte-Rôtie with an impromptu cheese course.
The meal draws to a close with some more classic French baking – a pear tarte tatin and a rum baba – before some lovely chocolates.
Fortunately, there is time to tackle the brandy trolley and a nip of 1967 Castarède Bas Armagnac leaves me falling in love. Unfortunately, it’s with the sommelier.
Emy, meanwhile, gets to grips with some old-school Calvados and everything, pretty much, is right with the world.
- This isn’t a review as such, more a conversation about dinner. I was a guest of Galvin at Windows and the London Hilton. For more information, go to: www.galvinatwindows.com and www3.hilton.com