There is something very British about an evening at the theatre. It feels more sophisticated and perhaps more old-school than heading to the cinema.
Those with a passion for live performance can devour a London awash with theatres and productions, while most towns across the country continue to offer some form of recital location.
It is no surprise that the establishments surrounding these show hubs make use of the extra footfall in their vicinity – an extra source of revenue at a time that doesn’t overly impact on their core operating periods.
The creation of a theatre menu is an opportunity that has a number of positives. It can capture a new audience that perhaps hasn’t used your establishment before. That audience is open to having a new experience – they are going to the theatre, after all. The customer’s need to arrive at the theatre on time means they are looking to be in and out of your establishment quickly, allowing a turnover of tables before your evening customers even arrive.
The West End hotels are in prime position to offer a theatre menu that can deliver on all aspects. They have the proximity to the theatres and they have the creativity to do something different; hence we have seen dining concepts themed to match shows appearing nearby.
But while themes are fun, the quality of the experience remains all important.
Wedged between the West End and Victoria, the London Hilton on Park Lane boasts one of the finest restaurants in the capital – Galvin at Windows.
On the 28th floor of the hotel, the Michelin-starred restaurant – under renowned chef patron Chris Galvin and recognisable general manager Fred Sirieix – has continued to set the bar during its 11 years.
Many thousands of words have been written about the famous restaurant, but Hotel F&B decided to visit to try out its Pre-theatre Menu and find out how it is implemented into the concept.
“We are Galvin at Windows,” says Sirieix. “So, whether you come for the Pre-theatre Menu, or the Menu Prestige or Menu Degustation, you have to have the experience of Galvin at Windows. Our vision is to give an amazing experience to each guest, that’s what we live and die by.
“This is all supported by our values, which we refer to every single day. No matter the menu or the dish, it has to be representative of your restaurant.”
CREATING THE MENU
The very nature of a theatre menu can be the antithesis of what a restaurant is trying to achieve; swift and prompt versus leisurely and relaxed. But Sirieix argues that a theatre menu’s quality need not be affected by pace.
“If you’re having the Pre-theatre Menu, generally you are coming in quite early, at 5pm or 6pm, for one hour to 90 minutes, so the emphasis is on the speed of service,” he says. “So, it is a question of making the menu adapt to that speed, but at the same time the customer is still coming to Galvin at Windows, so you can’t have the speed be to the detriment of the taste and quality of the product.
“We have to make sure that whatever we have is of the same quality.”
On the Pre-theatre Menu, the salad of Bayonne ham and pear with sunflower seeds and golden raisin purée is one of two starter selections in the three courses for £35 offer.
“Some dishes may look simple, but they are not,” says Sirieix. “For example the salad of Bayonne ham has been created by the chef, and we will have a tasting and I give feedback. The taste is always good, but we may have to talk about the presentation or if it is missing something. They will go back and refine it and we start again.
“Sometimes the simplest-looking dishes are the most difficult to achieve.”
Everything has to be considered – from cooking style to turnaround times.
“Joo Won (head chef) operates a very professional kitchen and they know how to cook things in all different ways to deliver quality, quickly,” says Sirieix.
“We pride ourselves on buying the best products, so we have to make sure that what we cook is adapted to the number of covers that we do, sometimes up to 200 in an evening. The kitchen is only so big, so we have to work out whether a dish is going to work on a large scale, too. We have to consider storage space up here; how big is the fridge? There are so many things to think about.”
The process of creating dishes for the Pre-theatre Menu remains as rigorous as any other at the restaurant. It changes monthly taking into account availability of seasonal ingredients, with all quality checks afforded to the Prestige Menu and Menu Degustation.
“When the chef cooks something, I always say ‘Is this an amazing dish? Is this going to give an amazing experience to the customer?’” says Sirieix.
“And sometimes, no, it isn’t. It doesn’t rock my boat or excite me. So sometimes it is hard for the chefs, because they are artists, and they are coming to show us their beautiful work and you say ‘Yeah, it’s nice, but it’s not good enough’, and you don’t hang it on the wall.
“At the same time, we foster a culture of creativity. We want our head chef and our sous chef to be creating new dishes. And they come to present it – I give them the ultimate feedback as I have the final say on what goes on the menu.
“I can’t cook it, I can only eat it, so it is the easy part I am doing. But it is an integral part of the process to always have an eye on the restaurant vision and meeting that line.”
With countless pre-theatre menus available in the West End, you might think it difficult to attract people to Mayfair to take on Galvin’s own.
“No. It is different, because it is Galvin at Windows,” says Sirieix. “Yes, it’s pre-theatre, but it is Michelin-starred, it’s on the 28th floor, it’s in Mayfair. It’s an experience customers have before they have their theatre experience. It’s more than just a pre-theatre menu when you come here.”
The Pre-theatre Menu is available between 5.45pm and 7pm, Monday to Saturday, with a 90-minute turnaround on tables. Customers are also required to book in advance, again helping to cut down on service time.
The existence of the menu also gives the opportunity for diners to come in and have a taste of Galvin at Windows, whether or not they are going to the theatre afterwards. And while there is a limit to seven diners ordering the menu per table, Sirieix enjoys the opportunity to bring in a new crowd.
“It can be a way for people to go out and have a nice meal without it costing an arm and a leg,” he says. “It is great to be able to provide to a very different market and give people the opportunity to come and try it and enjoy it.”
There are two choices available for each of starter and mains and dessert offers a third choice, with a selection of cheeses available for a £10 supplement or £15 if it is taken as a fourth course.
“We are predominantly French in style,” says Sirieix. “But with our chef being South Korean, we have influence from there and we have his personality in the dishes.
“We all went to South Korea in 2015 and travelled around to understand the flavours and people, and we have also been to France and Italy on trips as we feel it is important to bring back ideas to keep it fresh and to keep the ideas coming.
“You just don’t want to stay still, it’s about pushing the boundaries all the time. It is boring otherwise.”
Galvin at Windows attained its Michelin star in 2010, putting itself firmly on the culinary map and ultimately in the spotlight of those with a passion for food.
“We didn’t go fishing for the star, it came as a result of what we did,” explains Sirieix. “It came because we like what we do and we cook for the people that come here. We are not cooking for the guide, we are cooking for the customers. It is about the high level, but the consistence, so always people know what they are going to get when they come here.”
Sirieix, who has more than 20 years’ experience in hospitality, is no stranger to the spotlight, having won countless industry awards, working in top restaurants as well as writing his book Secret Service: Lifting the lid on the restaurant world. Oh, yeah, and the little matter of starring as the restaurant manager in popular Channel Four reality show First Dates.
But, engaging and passionate about food and service, it really is no wonder that Siriex continues to inject his efforts into the famous Galvin at Windows.
With extra focus on himself and the restaurant, does that mean there is added pressure in introducing a menu that has to be so carefully marshalled?
“There’s no added pressure,” says Sirieix. “It is what we do every day.”
Sample Pre-theatre Menu
Salmon rillette, avocado, fennel, lime and seaweed cracker
Salad of Bayonne ham and pear, sunflower seeds and golden raisin purée
Seared fillet of pollock, shellfish, lentil and curry velouté
Slow-cooked pork belly, crispy polenta, hispi cabbage & spiced jus
Cranachan, raspberry and whiskey trifle
Chocolate fondant, orange emulsion and Chantilly
Selection of seasonal cheeses from Buchanans (£10 supplement or £15 as an extra course)