Inspiration comes from the strangest places. For Zoë Perrett, it was a call-centre soundtrack what done it…
Insurance company hold music brought us here. Or, to be more precise, LB’s car getting stolen did.
We’re always ones to turn negatives into positives, so when his umpteenth attempt to make contact with the insurers resulted in 40-odd minutes of twinkly-plinky music which called to mind the piano man’s oeuvre in Galvin at Windows’ Skybar on our last visit, it seemed only apt to go there and galvanise our spirits over dinner.
Glass half full and all that – particularly and indeed literally for LB, who has his beady eye on the fine wine pairing before we’ve even arrived.
It’s not always time for fine dining; a lot of the time, it’s time for hearty slabs of lasagne or sweat-inducing Thai; but on the rare occasions it is, it’s like the pause button gets pressed on life – a plush dining room a meditation chamber soundtracked not by whale song but tinkling glasses, clinking silverware and a happy, hushed hubbub.
Or maybe that’s just me, and if so IDGAF cause I know you’ll agree it’s lovely to be cosseted on occasion. Fred Sirieix may have long left the building, but he’s left his legacy in superb service that feels supremely genuine and never, ever slides into cringy oleaginousness. In the midst of a national staff crisis, I think I’ve found where all the hospitality heroes are holed up (special shout out to Thomas).
It’s been half a decade since we last sat here – coincidentally (or maybe not, for elephant-esque memory of guests’ past visits is a given here), at this exact table. We still vividly recall absolutely ruining ourselves on a bread basket with the properties of the fabled Magic Pot way back then, so in spite of Thomas’s zesty encouragement, we exercise extreme restraint, mindful of the seven courses to come.
… And of course, amuse bouches don’t count as a course, and we’ve two to try before dinner proper even commences: charcoal Cornettos filled with (not ice-)cream cheese, and smoked caviar-jewelled golden potato beignets.
I almost choke on my savoury doughnut when LB declares a new-found love for olives evoked by Galvin’s house-marinated Gordals. They say olives are one of those things you grow into enjoying. Well, 48 years later, here we are.
A year ago, I’d also have informed you that neither of us like tomatoes, but then a certain small plate at Sager + Wilde changed that narrative, meaning that – in spite of its strange unseasonality – we tuck into a rainbow of toms, goat curd and basil emulsion with relish; LB equally so to his accompanying tomato-leaf scented Sanct Valentin Sauvignon.
Round two sees two different dishes arrive – because I’ve gone for chef Marc Hardiman’s plant-based menu, LB for the omnivorous option. He’s got a venison tartare with beautiful bbq notes and the tart-salt-sour tang of umeboshi plum, coupled with a Yalumba Grenache. For me, it’s a glorious chowder that tastes like sweetcorn on so many steroids you’d stare at it in the street. For LB, too, actually, ‘cause he’s the one mopping every last drop from my bowl.
He’s hard pressed to get a look in on the parsley risotto which follows; juxtaposing risotto’s round richness, the herb’s grassy freshness, truffles’ and girolles’ bosky, earthy qualities, and a madeira jus’s sweet syrupy character to quite stellar effect. It’s a paradox on a plate, and I am loving every spoonful.
LB’s done alright for himself anyway; glugging buttery Joseph Faively Meursault alongside Portland crab served in its spiky shell with, hazelnut, dill and crab apple (see what they did there?), finished with a gorgeous brown bisque. Top tip: whenever a sauce is poured at table, insist on keeping the jug, because you’ll inevitably want to devour every dreg.
You’d have to be living under a Liberty Cap to have missed the recent shroom boom pervading the mainstream media everywhere from pharmacology to fashion to face cream. The next course might not be magic in the psychedelic sense, but it’s still out of this world: an inverted ‘mushrooms on toast’ featuring crunchy-scrunchy croutons and a heap of sauteed mushrooms, compressed to yield mind-blowingly meaty textures. I start smooshing the last crouton in the juices as a gift to LB, then rethink my goodwill when he has the temerity to start backseat driving my technique.
I tell him to stick it and stick to his mussel-studded Dover sole Veronique, against which the paired Christophe Mittnacht Riesling drinks rich and oaky. The wine works a treat, too, with the mushrooms, revealing a fresher, greener side to its personality.
It’s a complete contrast to the Chateau Pichon Longueville Pauillac with its rich purple nose and soft leather notes, chosen to meet with a meaty beef Wellington. Anyone who’s sampled Calum Franklin’s example at Holborn Dining Room is spoiled forever to any other iteration, but it’s a solid example nonetheless. My parmesan gnocchi with spiced squash, pickled walnut puree and yet more cepes is an altogether Autumnal affair: the gustatory equivalent of kicking your way through piles of crunchy orange leaves.
We’ve savoured all manner of flavours and now it’s time for some sweet treats: a grown-up, multi-elemented remix of that childhood favourite, jelly and ice cream, which I’m down with aside from the inclusion of little nubs of skin on cucumber (GTFO pls); a gin-infused spin on lemon meringue pie; and a beautiful dessert wine whose name I don’t catch but which boasts a tropical bouquet and a whisky-like warmth in the throat.
Tasting menus make it easy to assuage guilt around overindulgence – after all, you’re not scoffing yourself silly; you are but ‘tasting’. So a second pudding isn’t greedy, it’s a given; and now we’re given a lychee-laden Vin de Constance, a berry-dressed coconut crème, and a lime dulce de leche-centred chocolate mousse whose flavour is pleasing to fans – aka me – of those chocolate limes off the pic’n’mix.
I know I said what I said about how we’re only here to taste so it’s not greedy, but a third pudding is a bit Billy Bunter even by ‘just tasting’ standards… although it’s delivered in honour of LB’s belated birthday, so it’d be rude not to – especially when it resembles a mini Colin The Caterpillar. But posher, obs: arise Lord Colin Of The Caterpillar in his shiny tempered chocolate coat.
A post-prandial glassful of Chateau Du Breuil Calvados helps the sugar go down in the most delightful way – spicy, smokey, burnt caramelly – and we lap up the 28th floor views ‘til LB’s lapped the last of his drink, toasting both to not letting the car-thieving bastards grind you down, and to the always-galvanising nature of dinner at Galvin at Windows. It’s been a while, but I suspect we won’t let it be that long again.
MAKE IT HAPPEN