Galvin Demoiselle

Mimi ON Oct 16, 2012 AT 9:42 am

by Chrissy Iley

Galvin Demoiselle is somewhat of a hidden treasure. Tucked away in the Harrods Food Hall it is both unexpected and a perfect fit.

It is pretty, it is girlie. It has the Galvin trademark orchids and eye for detail. And it has Sara Galvin, who is married to Chris Galvin elder of the celebrated chef siblings, at its helm. Sara has had influence and input into the other Galvin restaurants – Bistro, La Chapelle and Windows – but as her children grew up, the youngest is now 13, she found a need to be more independent and rediscovered her drive.

She started off in the hospitality business working at the Ritz when she was 18, then the Savoy and finally  the Lanesborough where she met Chris. She is blonde, with huge orbital eyes that miss nothing. She’s quick-witted, charismatic and wearing a lovely figure skimming dress. She has a presence, an energy and warmth.

”It’s lovely that it’s a bit discreet and tucked away. You’ve got the atmosphere and the ambience of the food hall and the buzz going on but it feels tranquil. It’s very different to the other restaurants in the food hall which offer a counter service and where you’re perched on stalls.’

Galvin Demoiselle, Harrods

In Demoiselle there’s no perching, rather luxuriating daintily in pretty banquettes. It comes with the Galvin name, of course, but this is a very different concept to the other restaurants of the brothers Galvin. It is extremely feminine, but not so ostentatious in a way that would be off putting to men. As we sit and chat from the corner of our eye we see Gary Rhodes come in with his family.

The colour palette, bespoke uniforms and napkins are just part of what sets Demoiselle apart within the bustle of Harrods. The cappuccinos are the most special in London, not just because of the delicious blend of yummy coffee and froth but a cappuccino artist, yes there is such a thing, writes Good Afternoon or Will You Marry Me on the froth. The attention to detail is exquisite.

Sara designed a packet to carry around sugar that looks like a tiny calling card. ‘I thought wherever you go people like to take sugar with them, so you’ve brown, white and Sweet N Low They were designed for people to carry in their handbags.’

Sara has a keen photographic eye and instinctive understanding of colour. ‘Our restaurants are all very food led, obviously. But this one’s more lifestyle. You’ve got a different crowd and of course they expect a certain level of food but fundamentally that’s not the main thing they’re here for. This offers them an oasis to rest their weary shopping legs. We do afternoon tea and we have a signature dish which is lobster fishcake. Our dishes here tend to be lighter.

‘There’s girl restaurants and man restaurants. I go to restaurants with Chris that are so obviously designed by a man because the seats are uncomfortable. If you are a lady in a bloke sized chair you’ve got to perch forward. Also the portions are larger. I wanted mine to be feminine and elegant, not glittery or girlie. I wanted to be inclusive.’

The menu covers breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. It is classic with a twist. The baked lobster fishcake with warm vinaigrette of fresh ginger and chives is one of their best sellers. You can get slow cooked Cornish lamb with apricots, almond and couscous. Or a simple smoked chicken and crispy cobb lettuce salad with mango dressing.   There’s a delicious soup every day and gorgeous tarts and desserts.

Does she ever get to cook at home, or is that too nerve-wracking living with a Michelin-starred chef. ‘Chris finds it painful and tragic to see me putting things together. Like a wounded swan he’ll take pity on me. I’m always fearful of ruining something, especially if we might have paid £30 for a rib of beef. I can’t cook and I’ve never had any confidence or interest in cooking. He puts so much effort into food. I’m married to a chef, I don’t have to worry. I’ve never cooked a Christmas dinner.

Sara Galvin

‘I am interested in food and sometimes I’ll go away with Chris and meet with small producers and source ingredients and go to farms. I’m very interested in the whole process from field to fork . I’m not a vegetarian and if I know an animal has had a great life I can handle it. We go to farms and see how the animals are raised. It makes the end product more expensive but it doesn’t sit well with me if I see things so cheap.’

The dynamics of Sara, Chris and his younger brother Jeff are fascinating. On the whole Chris and Jeff never argue and each member of the trio likes to support each other.

‘Chris and Jeff have given me an incredible amount of support, but equally I’ve had to be really strong in the kitchen and say this is what I think it ought to be.’

Her version of all day dining is very feminine and exudes warmth. Ladies for instance are quite content to lunch alone. ‘There are lots of local residents who come in just for the soup. One lady comes regularly. She’s very elegant and very graceful and has a bowl of soup with a glass of champagne. Every time we crack open champagne in the restaurant  I get excited. This used to be just a coffee shop.

‘I was looking around to see if there was anything else like this, somewhere that you’d feel very comfortable going in to, that’s very elegant. Dining on your own can be a really nice experience.

‘I’ve always been in the hospitality industry. I couldn’t work full-time with three kids. Chris was on the up so I decided to quit for 14 years, but I really kept a keen interest in the business.’ Her eldest girl is 17 and she has boys 15 and 13.

‘When Chris first opened the bistro we thought that was it, this is all we need. But after six or seven months an opportunity to open Windows came along. And once we had two lots of our guests were saying please do something in the City. When La Chapelle came along we couldn’t resist it. We’re also now open in Edinburgh at the Caledonian Hotel, similar to what we did with La Chapelle, fine dining and a grand brasserie.

‘Chris interviews a lot of chefs and one of the first questions he asks is: “How much do you enjoy giving?” And they say, “Oh, you don’t want to know what I can bring to your restaurant?” He thinks giving is a basic motivation for a good chef.

‘My parents are nurses. I knew that I would never do that – I am too squeamish. But hospitality is about making people feel good. Over the years you get intuitive over how much attention people want.’

Sara, Chris and Jeff Galvin

Much of the Galvin’s work is based on instinct – in the menus, in the kitchen, and in choosing waiters who can at the same time cater to everyone’s needs but never be in your face. Plates are never cleared away too quickly. You don’t get the sense of tables being turned.

Does Chris still see himself as a father figure to Jeff (he’s 12 years older)? ‘It used to be but that’s not the case any more. I’m much more feisty than they are but they are both very passionate about what they do. I have my say. I mentioned to Chris once the wording on a menu wasn’t right. He wasn’t pleased. He did change it.’

They all grew up in Brentwood, Essex. ‘When the Ritz brought me in they said I had to tone down my accent. They did me a favour.’ She tells me it was glamorous in those days. Once she was in the lift with David Bowie.

‘I wanted to be an actress. It was the only thing I was ever good at, but I came from a poor family so we couldn’t afford drama school. The careers officer said you can be a secretary or work in a bank.’

A second cappuccino arrives inscribed with ‘Good afternoon Chrissy’. The most attentive cappuccino I’ve ever had. It tells me exactly how much hard work has gone into these small but wonderful details. Sara Galvin, like her husband and brother-in-law, has a fierce work ethic. ‘I’m happy to wipe tables, clean the cutlery, serve people, anything it takes.’

Galvin Restaurants, www.galvinrestaurants.com

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