‘Now is the time for eating. Later is the time for regret.” So said my companion as we sat down to lunch at Galvin at Windows. In the end we had the eating, but not the regret.
But first the view: London, unlike New York and Paris both of which are built to comprehensible plans, looks delightfully mad from the skies. The Thames is never quite where you think it should be, swerving in and out of everything, seeming to force the architecture into unexpected arrangements. From on high, you realise too that the tube map is a perfect liar, giving you a false sense of distance and relationship when you travel through it.
From the 28th floor of the Hilton Park Lane you discover if you didn’t know it already that London is a mystifying place to live. What is Westminster Cathedral doing being so near, for instance, to the back garden of Buckingham Palace? Throughout our meal, we were able to see a peaceful soul mowing the gardens at the palace, looking in his way more kingly than the king. Talking of the regal, there was also an emperor of a seagull presiding over the area near Vauxhall, a bird who, we came to decide, certainly views Nine Elms as his terrain not ours. I noted the occasional stray drone skating along clouds – inquisitive, knowing things we didn’t.
But we knew also what it did not: the supreme glory of the food at Galvin at Windows. The butter came, slightly fanned and petalled, like an apricot rose on a basalt slab. The butter-knife resembled a sort of bladed paperweight, whose balance would self-correct if you nudged it so that its sharp end always pointed upwards. Like this, admiring a minor novelty, we embarked on one of the meals of our lives.
In retrospect greatness was coming at us from every possible angle; but I think it was the service which began to alert us to the sheer quality of the afternoon. One by one, good-humoured and knowledgeable staff arrived at our table, conducting the rituals of public dining with a notable intelligence and thoughtfulness. A great meal must of necessity be to some extent incidental to the food: a Burger King would have tasted good up here.
But happily, this was no fast food experience. Tasting the bread, we already knew that the food at Galvin would be reliably first rate. At around this point, the attentions of Rudina Arapi began to weave in and out of the experience. Arapi cheerfully told us about her upcoming sommelier exams – and the thoughtful pairings throughout the meal make me think she’s likely a shoo-in for these.
Hearing that I wasn’t drinking alcohol, she caused a revelation in the shape of a few glasses of Wild Idol, the closest non-alcoholic approximation to champagne I’ve experienced – only the very slightest alien tang giving the game away.
Food-wise, we started with caviar, which came amassed on an oyster shell at the centre of a plate of ice. Adjacent to it, was an oblong plate of bite-sized pancakes together with a tiny china saucepan of whipped cream cheese, sprinkled with chives. I recommend trying the caviar without any additional flavour in the first place so as to concentrate entirely on the pop and brine-rush of the little fish beads.
This was mere prelude to our main courses. I consulted the menu. After a period of anxiety, where every decision seemed to cordon off too many delightful possibilities, I opted – grieving for what I wouldn’t eat – for the artichoke soup. But I hadn’t erred: what emerged was a gorgeous broth, topped with truffles. I found myself reflecting that I never regret ordering soup. My companion went with the crab, which came with a veritable garden of edible flowers, as well as dill. A generous splash of caviar was to one side – like a kindness when someone doesn’t demand a thank you.
By the time of the main, I was by any reasonable standards already full – almost to the extent where food was beginning to present itself as a dangerous notion. But I had previously committed to a bulky steak. At this point – though my steak was delicious, I might have preferred the cod which my companion had ordered: a thing of delicate crutons, scattered capers, grapefruit, and mash.
No onlooker, seeing what we had already eaten, would have expected us to order dessert. But our ambition had increased, and so had our curiosity regarding what was possible. Not to eat dessert would have been like hearing the first four movements of Beethoven’s Ninth, and not listening to the finale. That would be to miss out on the Ode to Joy.
I opted for the araguani chocolate and dulce de leche, which came with banana and lime ice cream, topped with a sort of hyperloop of caramelised banana. To my own amazement, its deliciousness caused me to eat it in its entriety. My companion meanwhile showed no compunction about finishing her apple tarte tatin, with Calvados caramel and Tahitian vanilla ice cream.
When she laid down her spoon, it was with the confidence of the soothsayer who has been proven right. It had indeed been the time for eating. We had done our duty – and perhaps if you’re reading this, you should too.
To make a booking go to www.galvinatwindows.com