A really good bistro in some ways is of more interest to me than a Michelin starred restaurant. Of course, it’s great to eat out at the top levels, and leisurely evenings in elegant surroundings with fine food are one of my favorite pursuits, but there are many occasions when I’d like to have a more straightforward meal rather than eat at home. Arriving in London from New York, this was just such an occasion, and round the corner is Galvin Bistrot de Luxe. Opened six years ago by Chris Galvin (who used to cook at the Orrery long ago when it had a Michelin star), it has been a great success.
“De Luxe” is a fair description because it’s a far cry from bistros turning out the standard fare of roast chicken and fries. Granted the menu generally avoids more expensive ingredients: you won’t find venison or turbot here, and the meat dishes tend more to stews than filets, but I’ve never had a poor meal, and often some very good ones.
This meal we both started with the salad of beets and goat cheese, simple but well sourced, with nicely complementing flavors. (Most of the starters are cold, which seems appropriate for the bistro, although I do have a general view that once the Michelin-starred level is reached, a preponderance should be cooked on the spot. A cry should go up in the kitchen, “Lewin is here, let us cook his dinner,” rather than simply cutting a slice off something pre-prepared.)
Main courses were good with one caveat. My steamed fillets of Corsican bream, ragoût of sweet corn, courgette & saffron were simply excellent, in a creamy sauce that would have done credit to a Michelin-starred restaurant. The fish tasted farmed rather than wild, but that’s an expected compromise at the bistro level. My wife’s pavé of cod, coco de Paimpol, trompette mushroom & Bayonne ham was successful as a composition, but slightly spoiled by gritty mushrooms that did not seem to have been properly cleaned. A blackcurrant mousse made a beautiful dessert, rather reminiscent in taste and texture of summer pudding, but smoother, with a thin layer of underlying fruit.
Prices are very fair, especially allowing for the breadth of the wine list, which extends from decent choices at just over £20 to quite grand wines at vastly higher prices. In many ways, I think the measure of a restaurant wine list is more what it offers at the lower end than the higher end. Anyone can buy in the top Bordeaux or Burgundy if they are prepared to spend the money, but it takes knowledge and effort to find something good at the bottom end.
Apropos of stars, by the way, I’m far from the only person who finds Michelin’s awards to be erratic at the one star level. Their original list of one star restaurants in New York was something of a joke, and the present London list is rather variable, to put it kindly. Galvin Bistrot is in that useful category I would give a three quarter star – but that said, it is significantly better than some one-starred restaurants in London that I’ve given up on.