I’ve always enjoyed the times I’ve eaten at the various Galvin restaurants, but for this outpost at the Athenaeum hotel, the only other previous occasion was a large corporate lunch where the focus was more on work than the food. In addition, although this was in a beautiful space on the first floor, this event dining area area – called Hyde Park – isn’t actually the restaurant, although the food comes from the Galvin kitchen downstairs. The restaurant proper is on the ground floor, just behind reception in the hotel.
Although the chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin have restaurants at the Michelin-starred La Chapelle on the edge of the City and the Hilton London on Park Lane’s Galvin at Windows, this is the first time (apparently) they are in charge of the whole operation, including the hotel bar. I used the side entrance on Down Street and walked straight down into the bar first to test it out.
This is in what was once called the Garden Room. At night it’s a very seductive place, one long room, with windows backing onto Down Street at a lower level but screened by plants. The design seems to echo the distinctive exterior of the hotel, the one that faces onto Piccadilly and across to Green Park, with its brass detailing and modernist aesthetic. The tables in the bar have brass bases, and a mix of marble tops (Nero Marquira and Verde Guatemala). Since it’s a rectangular room, at the end to create a destination there’s a separate area with a screen showing a montage of vintage film embraces – apparently the hotel was a favourite of film stars. It’s a clever idea and gives the low-lit room some flickering light as well.
When I arrived two smartly dressed business men were sitting, leaning forward, discussing business, and otherwise it was empty, so I had the choice of various velvet seats or sofas in butternut or black colours (one or the other, not striped – that would have looked very seventies – and flicked through the wine and drinks list. Cocktails are described on cards, but there was nothing I fancied, so I asked for a cocktail to be made with rum as its base. After a chat with the barman (I can’t call them mixologists, sorry) I had a rum Old Fashioned.
The restaurant is located off the double-height lobby, which is very unorthodox with a small check-in desk for hotel guests and then, almost next to it, the reception desk for the restaurant. The front part of the room is comfortable seating and people drinking coffee or waiting for taxis, while at the back is the restaurant. We had a booth at the back, so walked through the small restaurant. The main decoration is a central chandelier, which makes it sound as if there’s a high ceiling but there isn’t, it’s just very cleverly designed.
The menus is extensive yet still approachable, and I had a lot of trouble choosing since I wanted nearly everything on there. To give a few examples of the main courses: lamb curry with mango chutney, raita, and basmati rice (£18.50); confit Gressingham duck leg with herb mash and braised red cabbage (£21.50); or braised venison shoulder, potato gnocchi and portobello mushrooms (£19.50).
In the end I chose the ham hock and parsley terrine with piccalilli (£9.00) followed by roast Brixham brill, brown shrimps, lemon, capers and leeks (£24.50). My companion had Ironbark pumpkin risotto and seared Orkney scallops, available either as a starter or main (£12.50/ £23.50), followed by flaked Peterhead cod brandade, violet artichoke, lemon and parsley (£17.50). Her comment was that the risotto was much more interesting than the usual risotto because of its chunky vegetables and crunchy pumpkin seeds, as well as two large scallops with a nice crust and yet softness inside. Her main of cod was “beautifully cooked into large flakes with bite coming from the capers, brandade as creamy mash on bottom”, and the “artichokes a little superfluous”, she thought.
My ham hock was large and tasty. The brill was a large piece of white fish with the shrimps, lemon, capers and leeks all adding strong flavour to the dish which perfectly complemented the sides. We’d ordered hand-cut chips, buttered cabbage and fine beans (£4.50 for each side).
We chose (on recommendation) a bottle of Galvin Bourgogne Chardonnay, 2015 (£54, or £12.75 per glass). We didn’t have room for desserts. Although I enjoy them, to eat dessert I ‘d have to skip the starter when the portion sizes are like this – and I enjoyed the ham hock too much to have missed it.
Really impressive, knowledgeable, friendly, but also efficient.
I really like this restaurant and will go back at the first opportunity.
Restaurant open for breakfast 7am-11am; all-day dining 12pm-11pm; lunch 12pm-2.30pm; afternoon tea 12.30pm-4.30pm; dinner 6pm-10.30pm. Bar open 11am-1am.
Starters £7-£21.50; mains £14.50-£27.50; sides £4; desserts £5-£12.50. Set three-course lunch and pre-theatre menu £29.50. Wine from £4.80 by the glass; from £26.50 by the bottle; several 500ml options also available, from £19.25.
Galvin at the Athenaeum; 116 Piccadilly; tel +44 (0)20 7499 3464; athenaeumhotel.com