116 Piccadilly, Mayfair, W1J 7BJ, athenaeumhotel.com
Nick finds the Galvins not firing on all cylinders at this outpost of their empire.
We like a bit of Galvin here at FP. Windows is usually wonderful, Galvin La Chapelle we raved over and the original Galvin Bistrot de Luxe has always been a go-to sure fire hit. But can the bros handle this kind of gig? After all a hotel restaurant is not the same thing as a restaurant in a hotel. There are certain demands and requirements.
The room looks pretty good, in the international hotel way, and the greet staff are pleasant without being unctuous. It’s about two thirds full, probably with hotel guests seeing as it’s actually sleeting outside.
The menu is a large ornate card and is, as expected of hotels, keen to cover every base so as to cover every nationality and need. It’s good to see though that it stresses the UK provenance of the ingredients, which may also be handy when the French stop selling us foodstuffs out of spite.
P snaffles the starter I wanted, Lasagne of Dorset crab, Nantais butter sauce. I’d looked at a menu online earlier, but now the menu seems to have lost many of the things I’d fancied, so I end up going for yellowfin tuna Ã¢â‚¬Å“Salade NiÃƒÂ§oiseÃ¢â‚¬Â.
For a restaurant not full, the service is rather slow. It’s a good twenty minutes before we get sight of our starters, which for me is about five minutes too long. On the plus side both starters look worth the wait when they fetch up.
The salad has fine looking tuna, barely cooked just as it should be, on a tumble of colours and textures. I’m not too keen on the bonfire smokiness coming out of the dried tomatoes, but everything else is good without being sock off-knocking great.
However, P really likes her lasagne, as I rather grumpily knew she would. It’s a winner of a dish when it has the right ingredients as it does here. Dorset crab? Nantais butter? Mess that up, I dare you.
So this is fine so far but then comes a very long wait for mains. You know when it’s been too long when you start looking around the room having run out of things to say to each other.
Okay that happens a fair bit in a relationship that’s lasted a few years, but I’m beginning to get a bit fed up with the wait, as well as the waiter repeatedly refilling our barely touched water glasses as a diversionary tactic.
Just at the point when P is making mutinous noises that involve the words’laugh this for a sod’, the food arrives. I’d been seduced by the idea of a cassoulet because as I say, it’s sleeting outside and nothing beats the cold like a cassoulet, that classic French’peasant’ dish of duck beans and pork fat. It comes in a dinky mini’cassole’ for presentation purposes. This sits next to a large plate and the cassoulet once ladled onto it looks a bit lost in the sea of white china.
The twist here was that they have eschewed the traditional pork fat factor, a good idea because unless you’re about to head out and plough a field it’s a killer on the constitution. It has been replaced by a Toulouse sausage cut lengthwise. The white beans are nicely semi-collapsed, the duck a bit overdone, the sausage feels a bit sad and re-heated. Now that’s not exactly wrong, cassoulet was always designed to be reheated again and again for breakfast, lunch and dinner until it’s gone. Overall though the dish is too dry and lacks seasoning and flavour.
A shame because the pheasant is beautifully cooked to retain a succulent moistness and the giant cranberries pop like fancy grapes to cut into the inherent richness. But those lentils threaten to drown everything and P refuses to eat them all.
So P has English cheeses for dessert which are fine, well-sourced and ripe, while I have a rum baba with vanilla cream and golden raisins, which is over-large and not as soaked and decadent as I like it. I admit that I still like the fake ones I ate as a kid, the ones with a stale glace cherry on top, so perhaps I’m not to be trusted on this.
Overall I come to the conclusion that while the Galvins have created the menu, and no doubt shown the team how to cook it, that was some time ago and the team is now working from the instruction manual.
This is all too often the case with hotel kitchens, they have to work to margins and by the book. They can cook just about anything they’re asked to, but like session musicians it’s not their tune and they don’t really have the investment.
As a hotel restaurant, the place is perfectly fine but it advertises itself as’fine dining’ and on the evidence of the evening it’s not that. It needs the bros back in to kick it up a notch and get their tunes back playing the way they’re supposed to.