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Archive for February, 2011

It’s a Friday, 9am. I’m stuck somewhere just outside of Stratford, been there for 20 minutes, should have been in London 15 minutes ago. I start to panic, I have a big day ahead, I can’t be late. If you get an invite from a chef of the stature of Jeff Galvin, you don’t refuse it and you certainly don’t want to be late. Just as I’m about to dial the restaurant to advise I may be late, the train starts trundling forward and shortly arrives in Stratford. Okay I’ll wait, I think to myself and sure enough ten minutes later we’re in Liverpool Street. I breathe a sigh of relief and make the short walk to Spitalfields.

As I walk over, my heart is pounding, I feel both nervous and excited. I actually asked Jeff Galvin for a day in the kitchen last year at the Hix Obsession event and didn’t really expect it to happen. You know, I’d been drinking, Mark Hix had been handing out martinis to his guest chefs and I thought that would be the last I’d hear of it. However, after being given Jeff’s email by Restaurant manager Alex, I (some weeks later) pluck the courage to ask again (no drink inside me this time).  The replay came and after a few exchanges, the date was set, I then had a month and a half to wait until the day and I feel I may have annoyed a few people with my excitement. And so I find myself outside the restaurant, a deep breath and I walk in.

Jeff isn’t in yet and I’m introduced to the Soux Chef. I’m given a uniform, change and enter the kitchen. I feel like people will see me shaking, I’m so nervous. I’m introduced to everyone in turn and guess what, I cannot remember any names. I am the worst with names at the best times, when I’m nervous, forget it. This is no slight on the guys, I really am terrible at remembering names and I had 9 to remember to their one. First thing I do remember though is being surprised at how small the kitchen is. Nine chefs, really? In there? It obviously works and they all have their stations, they know their borders and if you wanted to get poetic I guess you would say they dance around each other as they work. But these are chefs, real men, no dancing, more just getting on with it.

You may feel I am jumping around a bit, I am, it is hard to tell you about this day without reverting to being an excited little boy. The whole time I was there I couldn’t help but think, “this is a Michelin Star kitchen, what the hell are they doing letting me in here?” Well, I’ll tell you what they let me do, no cooking for a start, but would you really expect that? I started by quartering some globe artichokes (already trimmed), scooping out the “hairy shit” as it was described to me.  Maybe now’s a good time to note there were no women in the kitchen. I was then asked to butter some rings. I would say I buttered some chef’s rings but that sounds even worse.

There was plenty of leek chopping and then we left the kitchen while the floors were cleaned. We had soup, bread and returned to the kitchen. Service was getting close, I move over to help with the starters, quartering some button balsamic onions. The two chefs on this section were constantly talking to me, showing me the various starters and teaching me a few tips, like cutting the edges of the foie gras before cooking it to make it look nicer.

Over to the pass next just before service to fill and cut a delicate pasta. This is where I realised more than any point how much I was shaking, still shaking after nearly 3 hours with these guys. We are still finishing off the pasta as the blind goes up and I can see customers being seated. I was out there once, I think to myself and that does nothing for my nerves. I remember how good the food was and am pretty glad I’m not cooking.

We finish the pasta off and clear the pass. Jeff approaches and says they would like me to plate up the cod dish. Trying to appear confident, I say no problem, I can do that. Not so much butterflies in my stomach as a heard of rhinos having a rave. I’m shown the dish once and expected next time to plate up. Piece of cake, honest. So who reading this believed that last bit? I probably plated up that dish at least five times slower than I was shown. It did improve though, after a couple of tips and hints about how much sauce to put on (I was a bit stingy at first).

After quite a few of these, handing the orders to the chef and expertly toasting some brioche (oh yes, if you need brioche toasting, I’m your man), I moved over to the pastry section. I am shown how to plate up the chocolate fondant dessert and now have new found skills at putting doyleys and a small jug of coulis on a plate, oh yes I do. I enjoyed this part as I got to try some of the ice cream, brilliant banana ice cream and a milk ice cream. Really should have stolen the tubs.

Service is coming to an end and my wife is in the bar quaffing champagne waiting for me. My experience is over, I go to change, getting out of the way so the chefs can concentrate on prepping for the evening. Another thing that makes you realise how hard these guys work. Next time you go for a meal just remember that. I have a chat with Jeff, gaining more advice and tips and getting a bit of a potted Galvin history which is leaving me waiting for the book with baited breath (am I allowed to mention the book?). Finally dressed as a customer again I head to the bar for a beer with my wife.

I have to say I was knackered, my feet were pounding and I truly do not know how these guys (and girls) do this every day. I helped run a bar for two years and had forgotten how hard the shifts are but that is nothing compared to serving at this level. So much work goes into providing your meal, the pressure of providing that quality in every dish is immense.

So, what did I learn? I guess the main thing I learnt is that I know nothing. Okay, I can cook a bit, I have a basic knowledge of flavours, but really, truly, I know nothing about being a chef, I know nothing about food, not in comparison to these guys. For all of you, who like me, cook a lot at home and eat in fine dining restaurants, you are nowhere near being a chef. I guess now you’ll be asking, “So Simon, do you still want to be a Chef?” Well, that question is yet to be answered by me and I will leave you to draw your own conclusions from that.

Before I leave you though, I have to thank a few people for this amazing day. First, Olly Smith, yes the wine man off the telly. It was Olly that recommended Cafe a Vin and introduced me to the wonderful world of Galvin restaurants. Next is Sara Galvin, wife of Chris Galvin and hostess of Galvin La Chapelle. Sara advised asking Jeff face to face. Finally thank you to Jeff and the team for allowing me into your domain and putting up with this intruder. I hope I wasn’t in the way too much and really cannot thank you enough.

Please visit http://www.galvinrestaurants.com for more information on Galvin La Chapelle and the other wonderful Galvin restaurants.  

With thanks to @Julia_GalvinRes for the photo.

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If you have read previous blogs you will know I usually try to have a funny title to my posts, maybe a little play on words. This time, I couldn’t, I didn’t want to. The reason? Launceston Place is quite simply brilliant. Not sure I should start the post saying that as you will think the rest of it will be me gushing over the restaurant and the food. Well, I will, probably. I was extremely excited to be going anyway as I already knew the main man, Tristan Welch, would be in. Tristan is one of my favourite Great British Menu Chefs. I love his twists and new takes on food and showing off where the food comes from.

I’d better get back to the start of the evening though. I was taking my Wife for a pre-valentine treat to avoid the faux romance of the night itself. Yes yes, I know I said I took my Wife as a treat, yeah right of course I did, like you or she really believes this was for her. Well I did pay so I can get away with it. Not having been to Kensington for a while I was unsure where we were going so we took a casual walk up from Harvey Nicks after meeting a certain Chef called Jason Atherton (watch out for a post on Pollen Street Social in the future). We stopped off at the Victoria and Albert for a mooch around. My Wife found me in good spirits and making many hilarious jokes about some of the exhibits and artifacts (her opinion, not mine, honest).

We needed a sit down and were two hours early. You think I was eager? We stopped at a hotel bar called the Polo Bar, small, friendly, not a great choice of drink but a great Australian barman. We watched the Rugby, had a beer, had another beer and finally thought it was okay to head over to Launceston Place half an hour before our booking. We were greeted warmly and to be honest I actually enjoy a drink in the bar before a meal. We sat perusing the wine book ( I’ve stopped calling them menus or lists), took in the dark decor which I have to say takes a while for your eyes to adjust too but it does make for a very intimate setting. We ordered an English sparkling rosé to start and it was a corker. I’m not really into rosé but this was a great wine, refreshing and zingy.

We then had a look at the menu and ordered while we finished our drinks. I was slightly surprised by the menu as it only has four choices for starter and main. There is a major plus side to this though. I take ages to decide and I would have eaten everything on the menu. We would have gone for the taster menu if my wife would have attempted the steak tartare but hey ho, you can’t have everything and this was HER night. As we sat there, someone said good evening, I was busy reading and then I heard my name. I looked up and there was Tristan. This was funny because I had already asked if there was any chance Tristan could come and say hello, I just wasn’t expecting it so soon. My Wife said it is the most dumbstruck I have ever been in front of a chef. Even now I’m not sure why I could hardly speak. I probably hadn’t had enough to drink.

We are shown to our table after choosing and we discuss wine with the sommelier, choosing a white to start, red for the main. Oh sorry, I forgot, you get crisps when you have your aperitif, move over Kettle, Tyrells, and all you other pretenders, Launceston Place holds the crown for crisp making and it would take something pretty amazing to tear it off their heads. Anyway, we’re sat at the table, a loaf of the most amazing bread arrives with some pickled herrings. Pickled herrings, hmmmmmmmmm, my mind casts back to poorly catered parties with nasty poor quality roll mops. I really have never liked pickled herrings. Well guess what, I love them now. I am of the mind-set to think that even if I don’t like something, if it’s then made by a top chef, I will give it another chance. So glad I did. I meant to ask Tristan if I could have a pot to take home but forgot, so Tristan, could I please have a pot of herrings?

We are served our white wine, clean crisp, plenty of oomph to deal with the calves tongue my wife ordered and subtle enough for my scallops. The scallops arrive in the shell, roasted in coastal herbs and on a bed of shells. This is what I meant about Tristan showing you where the food comes from. Perfectly cooked, the herbs were new to me but somehow tasted so familiar. My wife’s tongue was pretty amazing too. Maybe I should rephrase that. My Wife let me have some tongue, no that’s even worse. I tried the tongue – will that do? I’ve never had tongue before so had to try it, what a flavour, tasted life a good slice of beef without tasting like beef.

We try to finish our white wine very quickly as were talking quite a lot, mainly about buying a place nearby and Launceston becoming our local haunt (just one lottery win away from moving to London). I purposely slowed down on the white knowing there would be some left for her while I delve into a dessert wine later. Our red is poured, a Rioja, oh how I love Rioja and this was an excellent one. I am clearly salivating by this point, the starters made me want more.

Our mains arrive, Herdwick Lamb with sea beets, crackling & salt baked potato for my better half and lightly curry spiced sweetbreads with chestnuts & grapes for me. Thinking back to Saturday night and that main course is making me drool, perfect sweetbreads, I love the flavour of them and only tried them for the first time last year. Never had warm grapes before and with the curry flavouring and chestnuts I was starting to float to food heaven. Angels appeared, playing harps, a schoolboy choir starting singing, that ray of light shone on the plate. I had a sneaky taste of the lamb and the slat baked potato which intrigued me. Lamb the way it should be, medium rare, tender and juicy. The potato was interesting. Too salty for my taste buds but somehow addictive as I had to try another piece.

We talk to our sommelier again. Do you know I’m a bit annoyed I didn’t get his name, a really friendly chap and very amusing, in fact all the staff were so friendly, a good team there. We choose dessert and I am somehow talked into trying the most expensive dessert wine on the menu, yes my arm was physically twisted. You do believe me don’t you? I’m glad I went for it though, matched my dessert of baked cheesecake with blood oranges perfectly. Blood oranges oh how I love you (note blood oranges is not a pet name for my Wife and I love her even more). I actually chose the dessert based on the fact it had blood oranges in it. Was not disappointed, creamy cheesecake and brandy snaps. Anyone who puts a brandy snap in front of me will be my friend, they may not want to be my friend so let this be a warning to anyone that feeds me – brandy snap = instant friendship. I knew what my wife would have for dessert, had to be the poached rhubarb with vanilla sabyon & hazelnut shortbread. Now something strange here with my Wife, I tried her tongue, I tried her lamb, I didn’t even get a look in with dessert. Her words, “It was yummy and I could eat that again”.

We enjoyed a very good cup of coffee after, my usual espresso. Then moved back into the lounge for after dinner drinks. Two glasses of 20 yr old Tawny port later (my wife going for cognac) and we were ready to pay the bill. Now we drank a bit so I won’t say how much the drinks bill was. The food is great value for money, £45 a head for three courses. When the food is of such a high quality, that is more than reasonable, in fact I’d almost say it’s a steal.

And so we pay, we start to feel sad at the thought of leaving when Tristan appears again, I’m sure he’s a fan of Mr Benn, he just appears from nowhere. We have a wander round, have a look in the private dining area and then into the kitchen. It’s quite small. I don’t know why that always surprises me really and kitchens. Everything is pristine, they are still serving a few people but are more or less cleaned down. We meet the team and thank them for what was one of my favourite dining experiences. So I leave you with just the picture below, the lighting is very low in the restaurant which is why I didn’t take any of the food. If you want to know what it looks like, get yourselves down to Launceston Place, you really won’t regret it.

Thank you guys for such a great meal.

 

For more information, please visit www.launcestonplace-restaurant.co.uk

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