Monday saw the first day of the Galvin Festival of Food and Drink and we were lucky enough to be at Cafe a Vin to have both Chris & Jeff Galvin cooking dishes and telling stories from their Cookbook de Luxe. I am sure my friends think I am obsessed about the Galvin Brothers. I have been in the kitchen at La Chapelle where I toasted some brioche and helped plate up, oh and I prepped some leeks and artichokes. It doesn’t sound much and I am don’t blame them for not letting me do any cooking (especially as they had only recently gained their Michelin star). Cafe a Vin is one of the main three restaurants also that we suggest to friends when looking for somewhere to dine in London. Given that Chris and Jeff, like me, are Essex boys may have something to do with my obsession. It really is great to see too Essex boys building an empire of excellent restaurants. To argue against having an obsession, it is worth noting that we still yet need to dine at Bistro de Luxe, Demoiselle in London and the two Edinburgh restaurants, Brasserie de Luxe and The Pompadour and if that’s not an excuse to go to Edinburgh I don’t know what is.
Back to the Festival. It is a one week event “showcasing the finest in French Food, Drink and Hospitality”. You can read about all of the events being held here.
We arrived at Cafe a Vin at 6.30pm thinking we were early as we are normally the first to arrive and found the Cafe was already quite busy. Everyone was clearly very keen to attend this event. Chris and Jeff were walking round the room chatting with the guests and also was our good friend, Alex (Alessandro Piombino) who we hadn’t seen for some time so it was very good to see him again. We also managed to have a brief chat with Sara Galvin and I think I made a promise to get over to Demoiselle soon so I will have to do that now. I even managed to have a quick chat with Jack Boast, Head chef of Cafe a Vin, who I am sure had the most stressful night with both brothers in the kitchen.
The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly and we enjoyed great conversation with the table next to us, getting a sneak preview of a new book about private dining called the Nth Degree. The food as you may expect was superb. The set menu started with Tarte Flambée, a dish that you just have to eat if you go to Cafe a Vin. It was matched with a 2011 Gaillac Sec, Chateau Clément-Ternes and, as we have found out on previous occasions, also goes well with champagne.
The next course was Chilled English asparagus with truffle vinaigrette which is a dish I will have to try to replicate. The vinaigrette is sublime, the perfect partner to the asparagus which had a gentle bite to it. A great starter on any menu as it is so light. I do think that the vinaigrette could be bottled and sold or even sold by the bucket load, it’s that good. The wine to match was a 2011 Pouilly-Fuissé “Les Scéles”, Damian Christophe Thibert.
There followed an amusing story told by Chris about a visit to the Denham Estate. As I already have a copy of the book I was already smiling when Chris began to speak. The stories alone make it a worthwhile read, you get more than just recipes. We moved on to the main course of Crisp Confit duck leg, black pudding & salad Lyonnaise which was served with a 201 Bergerac ‘Le Sens du Fruit’ Chateau Le Jonc Blanc. The dish is quite rich and the black pudding is a perfect partner to duck. I will admit to being surprised with the salad as I don’t usually like salad with hot food. It added a freshness to the dish and of course I should never doubt any combination that Chris and Jeff put together. It is one of those dishes though where you can feel quite full and just want to take another bite, then another and just as you feel fit to burst you take one more mouthful.
Before dessert it was time for Jeff to take to the floor with an anecdote of working for Nico Ladenis and a very expensive bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 1929. To get to dessert I have a confession. I didn’t take a picture which seems to be a habit of mine. By this point I am always so engrossed in the food that I forget to pick the camera up again. I did realise after and contemplated taking a picture of the empty plate. Dessert was a lemon tart. The lemon tart is one of those dishes that looks like it should be very simple. I have never attempted to make one and we were told that Marco Pierre White would take on new chefs from their ability to make a good lemon tart. I did have this dessert last year at Cafe a Vin and it never fails to disappoint. The balance or sweetness and tartness is perfect, the consistency of it gives a slight wobble and the pastry is so crisp that I can only dream of being able to make pastry that good. There was a big surprise with the dessert wine, not in it’s choice but the fact that my wife loved it. This is someone who doesn’t like dessert wine and often gets a sherry or brandy to match dessert. The wine in question was a 2009 Chateau Delmond Sauternes.
It was a wonderful night and a great opening to the week which I hope everyone enjoys as much as we did. One of the events taking place is the Apple Tarte Tatin competition where you are invited to make a Tarte Tatin and tweet a photo, the finalists being invited to Bistro De Luxe with their prepared Tartes for tasting. My entry is in and I nervously await to find out on Thursday morning to find out if I am a finalist. I say nervously waiting, I have no doubt there were many entries that looked a lot better than mine and in true British manner I will say “It’s the taking part that counts”. Whatever happens, it got me in the kitchen enjoying myself.
Thank you to Chris, Jeff, Sara, Alex, Jack and all the staff at Cafe a Vin for a great night and many more to come.
For more information on Galvin Restaurants, please visit http://www.galvinrestaurants.com
The book, A Cookbook De Luxe is published by Absolute Press and I am sure you can still get a signed copy from one of the restaurants. It would be best to directly with the restaurants. Believe me, the book is a must in any cookbook collection (I now have two copies, see obsessed comment at the start).