The restaurant: Galvin At Windows, London Hilton, 22 Park Ln, Mayfair, London W1K 1BE
“What are you celebrating?” Nothing, I replied eyeing the server suspiciously. I’m clearly not someone who hits the top of the Park Lane Hilton without an occasion. He walked away and I worried I should have been more polite — perhaps should have made something up. Maybe the Hilton, or in particular Galvin at Windows, doesn’t have regulars. We were welcomed by a the maître d’ who popped some skyline postcards on our table, exclaiming she’d send them anywhere in the world to make someone jealous of our dinner. Peeking around at the clientele, it’s mostly those celebrating, those out to impress, and older businessmen with younger women. For everyone, it’s an excuse to dress up. So, we sat on the 28th floor of the tallest building in Mayfair, ready for some grown-up nosh, staring out at a charming view of the city.
You pay a premium for the view. It bothers me when this is the case, not because it’s wrong to charge but because I can never decide how long I must enjoy the view to get my money’s worth. How many minutes or hours does the London skyline need of my attention to feel appreciated? Sitting down, there’s an overload of things happening: olives to eat, wine to choose, postcards to write, date to speak to. Enter the Korean tasting menu. A quick “yes, that one please” and I’m back to picking on the streets of central London I’m certain I recognise.
The tasting menu (or menu degustation) is eight courses of Korean influence, coddled in French haute cuisine. Head Chef Joo Won, who hails from South Korea, conceived the menu, keeping in mind the Menu Prestige and the standard Degustation offering and allowing much crossover of dishes and ingredients. While rice beer, kimchi and green tea lapped up with Korean side of things, the presence of Comté, Iberico pork and a mix of French and Spanish wines, assured a Western European presence.
The amuse-bouche set the mood for the following courses: crunchy and probably laced with kimchi. It was a pleasant, tangy cucumber, radish mouthful served on a slither of sourdough crostini. For the second course, I expected the raw kingfish, but cured salmon arrived. It was smooth and sweetly cured with soy and treacle, served with slithers of pickled beetroot and spring onion. It was paired with a sweet and sharp milky rice wine, a small measure which cooly coupled up with the salmon. This Korean drink was translated to both beer and wine on the can, but our sommelier felt confident it could be classed as a six percent wine.
Next we plucked apart a 25-piece seasonal salad. We plucked and crunched and wondered about some of the ingredients. The cucumber doused in soy vinaigrette was enough to convince a non-cucumber eater (myself) that the watery, fleshy fruit is actually rather good. The ginseng honey dressing was a lovely sweetener too. You could taste the courses melding into one another: things still packed a crunch but were gradually getting sweeter. We had to bypass the deep-fried lobster tail, and so our fourth dish was artichoke in a soybean and mushroom stew. It was salty, rich dish with cucumbers floating around in it. This was served with French Pinot Gris, which our French sommelier was pleased had made it onto the menu.
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After a sharp, palette cleansing 25 ° Soju with tonic and (more) cucumber cocktail, came my most anticipated course. Probably with the least Korean influence: baked hake sandwiched between Iberico pork and cabbage, and topped with melted, hardened Comté. Adding all of those ingredients to my fork and tasting them all together was my favourite moment. While number five flirted with meat, course six dove right in: duck breast with braised leg and kimchi – warming like stew, but tart like fermented vegetables.
The pre-dessert marked the twilight of the tasting menu. It was a yoghurt sorbet with a slushy iced shizo granita, topped with caviar-style hibiscus. The take-home being that it was refreshing, cold and colourful. Dessert was a chocolatey affair — not for me, but bound to be a hit if you’re one for matcha lattes and mousse. It was served with a perfectly sticky and sweet plum wine.
A tasting menu isn’t for everyone. We stretched it out over four hours, which some may argue is excessive. For me, there isn’t much else I’d rather spend my time doing. The Korean tasting menu is £175 (or £119 without wine). It’s eight courses and seven drinks. For an overly indulgent evening with unparalleled drink pairings, you’ll get precisely what you’ve signed up for. While tasting menus can be strict, and there was an air of disappointment when I announced I couldn’t stomach lobster, Galvin at Windows did make exceptional substitutions. Go in with an open mind and try every dish if you can. Overall I enjoyed the progression of the dishes, each course lending itself to the next in colour, texture or ingredient. Learning about the drink pairings from our sommelier was very much a highlight too. Catch the Korean tasting menu until the end of September, though if you can’t make it in time, it’s assuring to know that many of the dishes are available on the other menus.
To book visit GalvinAtWindows.com or call 020 7208 4021