Years ago, Chris and Jeff Galvin’s father won big in a chance bet on the horses. With his winnings (about £300), he bought a second-hand Vauxhall and drove his family across France over the summer. The journey opened up a whole new world of exotic flavours – planting the seeds of a lifelong passion that would ultimately lead to one of the UK’s biggest culinary success stories.
The brothers’ straightforward, ingredient-led approach to cooking and love of French food has quietly revolutionised Britain’s contemporary dining scene. Each has won a coveted Michelin star in his own right and worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. In 2005, they joined forces to launch London’s Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, and a slew of critically acclaimed restaurants followed. With such phenomenal success under their belts, it’s reassuring to know that the ‘two Essex boys who cook French food’ are distinctly ego-free.
‘We’re a bit like a pair of brogues: we’re never in fashion, never out,’ says Chris, the elder of the two, in a deep, assured voice. That’s modesty speaking, of course – today, the Galvins are more in demand than ever, while quietly expanding their restaurant empire. The recently launched Galvin at The Athenaeum is the latest string to their bow.
‘We’re a bit like a pair of brogues: we’re never in fashion, never out’
While no strangers to the hotel industry – both within the Galvin portfolio and in their separate careers – Galvin at The Athenaeum is the first of their restaurants to break the brothers’ trademark French-dining template.
The new restaurant serves modern British fare from breakfast through to dinner. As it happens, the brothers had already been burying themselves in all kinds of historical British cookbooks while doing research for their deluxe Spitalfields pub, which opened earlier this year. Chris is adamant, however, that they’re not on a crusade to revolutionise the UK’s cuisine.
‘We shouldn’t be too hung up on the label,’ he insists, explaining that many dishes will have international elements influenced by England’s ‘rich culinary tapestry’.
‘What I’d like to do is celebrate British produce.’ He says.
This is the crux of the new restaurant and, indeed, the entire food and drink operation at The Athenaeum which has, in a career-first, been overseen entirely by the brothers. Favourites like a Full English Breakfast and Afternoon Tea will remain on the menu, but the Galvin spin (or to ‘Galvinise’ it, as Chris says, perfectly deadpan) is simply to let the ingredients do the talking.
‘We don’t muck around with anything; it’s all about using the best. We always say we’re market driven and seasonally led. Spring-summer is a lovely time to open – it’s quite bountiful.’
Galvin favourites such as dressed Portland crab with rye bread and the hearty Galvin burger ‘Deluxe’ remain on the menu alongside new dishes that adopt British ingredients and traditions such as ‘Jubilee’ lamb curry and the Galvin’s own cured smoked salmon. Other regional ingredients include British crab and lobster, Welsh lamb, pink Rosanna onions from Colchester, St. George’s mushrooms and sea vegetables foraged from the UK’s rugged coastline.
‘I think people will be pleased to see British ingredients taking centre stage’
‘I think people will be pleased to see British ingredients taking centre stage,’ says Chris. He acknowledges chefs like Rick Stein for championing British produce, and even praises the supermarkets and media for ‘doing their bit’ in supporting local farmers. The average consumer these days is far savvier about what’s on their plate and how it got there, he says. Today, the barriers between chef and customer are ever-diminished.
‘I think we’re becoming much more democratic,’ Chris says. ‘I grew up in an age where chefs said no to everything, but we’ve evolved. You give the customer what they want – why wouldn’t you?’
It is, he agrees, a very Athenaeum way of thinking. The brothers approached the task of ‘Galvinising’ the hotel in the same way they do their other projects; with family values firmly in mind. The duo has famously ‘never said a cross word’ to one another, and working with another family-run operation has proved a natural fit.
‘Family means a lot to us. Most of our suppliers, who we call our partners, are family-owned. We love working with family businesses because they care a lot about what they do – that always shows through.’