In 2010 I met a certain wine expert, Olly Smith at a book signing. We were talking about food as well as drink and Olly said we must try a place called Café A Vin. We took Olly on his word and headed over to Old Spitalfields, found Café a Vin and settled down on a warm night for some al fresco dining. We weren’t sure what to have to start so it was recommended we have the Tarte Flambe which just had to be accompanied with a glass of Galvin Champagne (which we said to just bring us a bottle). It’s an amazing match and at that moment, I would never have guessed as to what would come of this first time at Café A Vin.
I went back there about four times over the next month, not bad considering I don’t actually work in London and spend most time in the West End when we visit. I have had some amazing meals there, especially the fish dishes and a purely phenomenal lemon tart. Phenomenal because it’s the first lemon tart I have ever managed to finish (and had I not been stuffed, I would have asked for seconds).
Obviously we had to try the other side, Galvin La Chapelle, which was another memorable meal which I have blogged about before. We had the pleasure of meeting Sara Galvin and also having Chris and Jeff Galvin sign my Obsession book. There then followed an evening at Selfridges with Fergus Henderson, Nigel Haworth, Brian Turner and, of course, Chris & Jeff Galvin. Quite a troop of Chefs to have cook up a four course meal for you.
At Selfridges, with a little alcohol to boost my confidence, I strolled up to Chris and Jeff and asked if there was any chance of some time in the kitchen. Jeff welcomed the idea and we arranged something for the New Year as Christmas was quickly approaching and I’m sure the last thing they would have wanted was me in their way. So I arrange a day and two weeks before the day arrives, La Chapelle gains its first Michelin Star. I have blogged about this day so I won’t go into detail again here except to tell you about the chat I had with Jeff at the end of my shift. Jeff gave me a bit of history about the restaurant, his career and sharing a few anecdotes. He also told me about a book, a Galvin cookbook. No title was decided yet and the book was still being put together, I don’t think there were any photos at this point.
So since about February this year, I have been waiting for this one cookbook. Yes there are others I wanted (still want) but for me, having had an insight as to what is going in the book and having known about it for so long, this is the one book I wanted above all else. It was on my Christmas list and after a tweet from Matt Inwood from Absolute Press, every member of my family were told not to buy me the book as it was winging its way to me.
When the book arrived I was like a kid on Christmas morning, tearing open the packet and then holding the book like it was the holy grail. I don’t think I have ever been so excited about a book before. I had actually just returned from a weekend in London so was tired, hungover and still had my coat on, that’s how much I wanted to see this book. The first thing I done was look through the recipes and there it was, the Tarte Flambe. How excited am I to now have the recipe for this. I will try to make this at home, I have no doubt it will never taste as good as it does at Café a Vin but I will give it a go none the less.
Now you may think I am not exactly the right person to give an unbiased view of this book, you could be right or you could think that I may be more critical than others as I expect so much from the book. This book has to be perfect. I have been waiting for it most of the year, it cannot let me down. For a while I just stood there looking at it, I don’t think a book has ever had this sort of effect on me. I finally settled down and read through Chris and Jeff’s stories, a quick potted history of how they became chefs, how the restaurants came into being and a few anecdotes and all of it is thoroughly entertaining. I prefer cookbooks like this, I like to understand where the chef is coming from. I then flicked back to read the foreword by Raymond Blanc, he’s almost a bigger fan of the brothers than me.
The recipes on the whole are not the kind that you can say “I’ll knock that up when I get home tonight” I think these are more for impressing your friends at a dinner party or just treating the family to a great meal. There are handy tips on how to approach the recipes too, prepping the day before, running through the recipe in your head so you make a mental note of what you will need, thinking about timings. It does feel like this is Chris and Jeff giving you the advice and, for me, I can hear Jeff’s voice which makes it a little more personal.
The recipes are very clear though, there is a little note before each one with a tip on what cut of meat, possible replaces or an explanation of a term used. It also includes the basics such as stocks, sauces, pastry, oven dried tomatoes and preserved lemons and there are clear sections on starters, mains and desserts. There are many classic Galvin recipes, dishes that, when you cook, you should feel proud that Chris and Jeff have allowed you to know the secret of some of their best loved and most popular dishes. My wife would tell you that you must try to recreate the rum babas with crème Chantilly, the best rum babas she has ever had. (Get down to Café a Vin and try it, they’re not stingy with the rum).
Some of the ingredients may not all be found in your local supermarket and may take a bit of sourcing and whilst many dishes are classically French, you will notice a lot of British ingredients. I would look at it like this, imagine where those trips and searches for ingredients will take you. What other delights will you discover whilst you try to put together your own Galvin dish. From truffles to grey-leg partridge to veal brains. This book really encourages you to get out there and try something new.
There are a few additional touches such as the Bar Stories that are dotted throughout the book. These are a great read and give a wonderful insight to the life of hospitality, the side us diners don’t usually see. My favourite has to be about the duck and the handbag but you will need to read the book to know what I’m going on about. The other thing I noticed is that nothing seems out of place, everything has a reason for being there, the image on the cover, every photo, every story, every ingredient. It has been very cleverly thought out and as much care taken over the book as Chris & Jeff take over their food.
I have only had this book a week and I already know this will take pride of place with my other cook books. In fact, I have found it hard to put it down, even taking it to work to read during lunch. It is not a book I will be taking into the kitchen, with its hardbound walnut cover, which is an image of the walnut burl veneer from Les Halles in Lyons and glossy pages which I do not want to dirty. For me, this is a book I will use for inspiration, for pushing myself a little further in the kitchen and, no doubt, for planning a whole dinner around for family and friends in the new year. So who’s coming for dinner?
Galvin a Cookbook de Luxe is published by Absolute Press, ISBN number 9781906650568
11/01/12: I have just picked up my book after having it signed by Chris & Jeff. I was lucky enought o be treated to a beer and their wonderful Tarte Flambée. This is what book signings should be like.