The Galvin group has a pretty nifty reputation in this city; from First Date’s Fred managing the Windows branch through to the HOP restaurant doing one of the best bottomless brunches in London. The Athenaeum outlet is no different when it comes to stellar credentials, though for this incarnation, the group have ditched their usual French leanings and taken inspiration from the UK.
Venue and Atmosphere
For Galvin at The Athenaeum, the group has thrown off any links to their Continental label with a great shrug of the shoulders. The building is old-school English to its buttoned-up blazered heart; on the edge of Green Park, the spot has seen life as a private members' club, an occasional art gallery and its current incarnation as a hotel. It’s West London grand, though the outside has been given the unavoidable hotel touches, with a golden entrance and black gildings over windows. Head downstairs to find the restaurant, a simple and sleek affair with monochrome photos, white washed-walls and starched tablecloths.
It’s the first weekend of December, which means that obligatory Christmas cheer is in full swing with crackers on every table and paper-hat wearing guests. The venue has the sort of exclusivity associated with Mayfair, with soft, teal velvet sofas lining the walls of the room. Each section is separated by screens which offer little booths of privacy, perfect for hiding the celebrity frequenters (in its heyday, Take That, Steven Spielberg and Elizabeth Taylor have all stayed), or the couples eager to rush to the rooms upstairs.
Food and Drink
With two Michelin stars between them, the Galvin brothers might have the fancy credentials but they avoid the kidney-selling price tags that usually denotes. This is the only restaurant in their collection that has a British theme, with products sourced from independent, UK-based farmers. Skipping between meat, fish and pasta, the menu is full of British ingredients cooked with an international twist. The lasagne of Dorset crab starter (£15.50) was indescribably good, with salty white crab meat layered in little circles between butter sauce and a scallop and crab mousse. My dining partner went for the steak tartare (£10.50), which was made from Dedham Vale Beef and had a mustard-y after-taste, adding a warming depth to the cold meat dish.
Mains were similarly mouth-watering, with an inspired tuna burger (£21.50) bucking the dairy-filled, bigger-than-skyscrapers burgers that are on most Londoners' Instagrams. Chunks of fresh fish were moulded into a patty and flash fried before being topped with a crunchy slaw and slithers of avocado. Desserts are deliciously rich and the sort of thing only the British can stuff even at the end of a three-course meal; get the apple tarte tatin (£7.50), for a modern take on a nostalgic dish with caramel apple pieces topping a buttery soft pastry.
Drinks are as consumable as the meal, and by the time we wobbled out of the hotel doors, we had slurped a Kir Royale, half a bottle of wine and been led into the very sexy hotel bar. Only in films do hotel bars contain good-looking strangers and an intimate atmosphere, but THE BAR at The Athenaeum does its darnest to turn this into a reality. Black and white movies flicker against the back walls, and couples sit knee-touchingly close on sofas. Assistant Manager William reads minds with his ability to choose you a cocktail, ending our night with punchy mezcal concoctions and gin sweetness.
From the moment I slurped bottomless prosecco for £10 in swanky HOP, I knew the Galvin Group was the place for me. Galvin at The Athenaeum has deepened my dedication to the brand; dishes are write-home good, service is amazing, and the restaurant has all the hallmarks of a West London institution without being snobby or stuffy.