Galvin at Centurion Club
PUBLISHED: 12:00 23 December 2016 | UPDATED: 12:40 11 January 2017
Brian Arnopp Images
Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne experiences a new Herts restaurant aiming for super-stardom
Unless you’re a golfer and/or familiar with the Centurion Club between St Albans and Hemel Hempstead, you are liable to miss Hertfordshire’s latest entrant in the fine-dining stakes.
The club is set back a way, and there is so far a distinct lack of visible signage – although that is in the process of being fixed – so it’s easy to drive straight past. Based on the evidence to date, that would be a pity.
Galvin at Centurion Club is the latest venture from Michelin-starred chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin and their first in England outside the capital. The Herts arrival is being run by Jeff Galvin as chef/patron with head chef Josh Barnes, and trails an impressive pedigree. The brothers opened their first restaurant, Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, in London in 2005. It became an overnight success and was named Best French Restaurant for two years running. The following year, they launched Galvin at Windows, on the 28th floor of the London Hilton on Park Lane. That gained a Michelin star in 2010. Another venture, Galvin La Chapelle in the City, was awarded a Michelin star in the 2011 Red Book while the brothers’ Café a Vin gained a Michelin Bib Gourmand.
As the Chef Academy of London puts it, ‘A Michelin star is the most coveted award that any chef aspires for. Although the Michelin star is awarded to a restaurant, the credit for it goes to the chef in charge of the kitchen.’
Pausing long enough to mastermind Galvin at the Athenaeum, which opened in June in the five-star Athenaeum Hotel and Residences in Piccadilly, the partnership has now turned its attention to the Herts countryside, opening at the Centurion in mid-September. The clubhouse, overlooking a lake, has been refurbed into a smart 84-cover dining room open to all-comers which Jeff Galvin, who lives in nearby Welwyn, says will stay true to the ‘signature Galvin experience’. The brothers made their reputations with what has been called ‘laid-back but finely-executed French cuisine’, though this brother says the new venture will see some adjustments according to season and new ideas for a new audience.
My fellow critic and I took friends to this particular test meal, giving four opinions instead of the usual two and a chance to try a wider range of dishes than usual. It’s not cheap, but the temptations were considerable. Starters included steak tartare with toasted sourdough, a velouté of roast butternut squash with cep mushrooms and parmesan, and a risotto of smoked haddock with leeks and celery. Among the mains were grilled fillets of red mullet with couscous and tomato butter sauce, exotic-sounding pig’s-head croquettes with apple and frisée salad and sauce gribiche, plus grilled French calf’s liver with mash potato, braised gem lettuce and Alsace bacon.
Also in the starters was a Galvin signature dish of lasagne of Dorset crab (£14.50, right) with beurre Nantais and pea shoots, which two of us were happy to sample and found moist and fresh and infused with flavour. Also on the fish theme, the risotto (£8.50) proved one of the stars of the show, with the velouté (£6.50), ideal for a chilly evening, equally well received. The star turn in the mains, however, was roast Cumbrian chateaubriand for two (£34.50 per person, above) with creamed spinach, potato mille-feuille and Madeira sauce, generous soft and buttery slices of meat that had us all (having shared it around) singing its praises. Another Galvin speciality of roast rump of Herdwick lamb (£24.50) with grilled Provençale vegetables and black olives provided a third main, while the liver (£22.50), a particular favourite with Mrs C, by now completely sold on the place, gained a gold star all its own.
Not normally given to desserts, we found those on offer irresistible. Apple tart Tatin (£6.50, left) was the real thing, dark-brown crust and all, and with Normandy crème fraiche found a new home with two of us. A prune and Armagnac parfait (£6.50) and soufflé of blackcurrant with crème Anglaise took care of the rest of the audience, last seen smacking their lips and looking pleased.
We descended on Galvin at Centurion Club six weeks into its Herts tenure, lured by the distant shine of the magic Michelin accolade. As expected, it was a relaxing – if expensive – evening with friendly service to match the food and comfortable if slightly unusual surroundings. Despite having several fine restaurants, the county so far is star-less, but this is surely among the contenders. w
The cost of this à la carte meal was £133.43 per couple, including a glass of wine each. Other offers include a fixed-price menu at £16.50 for two courses or £19.50 for three, and a three-course set-menu Sunday lunch at £25.50. This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
BOOK A TABLE
Galvin at Centurion Club
Hemel Hempstead Road, St Albans HP3 8L