It is time restaurants instituted a pay-per-view system, in which you pay for the view you get. A modest basement restaurant with no outlook would therefore be cheaper than a skyscraper penthouse.
But what if you are on top of the world and still don't get to see anything? At new hot spot Galvin at Windows, on the 28th floor of the Park Lane Hilton, the view is spread out before me... of tables and chairs. It's like being in the highest pod of the London Eye with the blinds down.
As part of its £2m makeover, the centre of the room has been raised, presumably in order to make the admittedly breathtaking views accessible to all. Theory good. Practice bad. The entire raised area has been surrounded by a dark, wooden-slatted partition that effectively reduces the available view to about 20 per cent of its potential once you are seated.
Those by the windows of this 28th-floor restaurant get a far better pay-per-view ratio. Just my luck, I visit on the one night the restaurant had to honour a long-term group booking that snaffled all window tables. Even so, on any busy night, one-third of the diners will be herded inside this wooden corral with nothing better to look at than tables smartly laid with sparkling silverware and a sea of fine Spigelau wine glasses, with a circling bevy of efficient if automatic waiters. And these people pay the same as those enjoying dress-circle views: around £14 for starters and £26 for mains.
Chris Galvin, who won a Michelin star at Orrery before moving to more democratic dining at The Wolseley and Galvin Bistrot de Luxe, where his brother Jeff is ensconced, has returned to the heights of haute cuisine. Together with head chef Andre Garrett (ex-Orrery), he has put together a menu bursting with good, solid, classical French cooking. There is native lobster bisque, seared foie gras with raisins moelleux, new-season lamb with pommes boulangère, and tournedos of Angus beef.
The view improves immediately when the food arrives. Take everything you know about Provence and lay it on to a wisp of beautifully golden pastry and you have Galvin's seared-tuna tarte fine (£13.50). A smear of caramelised onion, in the manner of pissaladière, is topped with a deconstructed ratatouille of courgette, aubergine, tomato and artichoke, in turn topped with paper-thin, overlapping slices of barely seared tuna. Flavours are delicate but finely tuned and fresh.
A salad of garden vegetables (£10.50) is a pretty dish presented in the new haute-messy style - a strewing of asparagus slivers, cresses, lettuce leaves, ruby chard, pea sprouts and peeled tomato petals. Buried in the middle is a warm, runny, boiled duck egg, as if freshly laid by Jemima Puddle-Duck.
If the food prices are enough to scare the horses, the wine list may cause them to bolt down Park Lane, with very little under the £30 mark. I manage to find value of sorts in a £46 bottle of Domaine la Soumade Rasteau Cuvée Prestige, a ripe, dense, intense Cotes du Rhone Villages.
Poché-grillé Anjou pigeon (£25), which is poached sous vide-style and then grilled, is something that intrigued both Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay enough to order it. The two cooking processes conspire to leave the pigeon, presented as two claw-on halves, immaculately rare and rested, with an almost primeval flavour that only serves to point up the finesse. On the side, a little silver pan of petits pois is a warm pond of fresh baby peas with carrots, button onions and ham.
Braised monkfish, shrimps, clams and saffron paella (£28) is an electric yellow swish of rice studded with little baby clams in the shell and tiny, tiny little shrimps. Sitting on top is a large blimp of monkfish slashed and studded with bay leaves. As always, the monkfish is solid and meaty but with a pleasant, lingering flavour that works well with the polite Spanish notes of the dish.
With dessert, you can feel the kitchen letting its hair down. Poached apricots (£8) sit at the bottom of a Martini glass topped with a jelly of the new mara des bois strawberries (larger than the tiny fraises des bois but with the same intense aroma) and little quenelles of basil ice cream. On top is a creamy, foamy head, sprinkled with crunchy praline which makes you feel like a kid eating a very grown-up knickerbocker glory.
Like all "view" restaurants, Galvin at Windows has an inherent problem. Regardless of how good the food is, Brits and tourists alike will pay to see London from the 28th floor. They did when it was just plain Windows on the World, and will continue to do so regardless of who is cooking.
In Chris Galvin, they get a solid, accomplished craftsman with a modern, classical repertoire and a great feel for the seasons. His robust, gutsy-yet-refined dishes would be highly enjoyable at any level. Yet you have to ask yourself if you would pay these prices to sit in a basement. And if the answer is no, then how much do they owe you when you don't get a table with a view?
15/20 Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 OK 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
Galvin at Windows, 28th Floor, London Hilton on Park Lane, 22 Park Lane, London W1, tel: 020 7208 4021 Lunch served daily. Dinner served Monday to Saturday. Around £140 for two including wine and service.
Second helpings: More rooms with a view
Fifteen Cornwall Watergate Bay, Cornwall, tel: 01637 861 000 Jamie's second UK outpost comes with killer views over an idyllic two-mile beach. It also boasts an Italian-inspired menu that is spiked with local produce.
Tamesa@Oxo 2nd Floor, Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House Street, London SE1, tel: 020 7633 0088 It may only be two floors up, but Dominic Ford's new café/diner enjoys such great views of the Thames, you'd swear you were on a boat. Food is seasonal and prices reasonable.
Tower Restaurant Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 225 3003 Perched atop the Museum of Scotland, the Tower enjoys some of the best views of Edinburgh Castle, as well as those of a fine pig's cheek and ox tongue terrine and pink bream with artichoke barigoule.
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