Galvin brothers

Chris and Jeff Galvin

Galvin brothers

Chris and Jeff Galvin have spearheaded the revival of high quality French bistro cuisine in the UK, offering affordable luxury, family hospitality and ingredient-led, seasonal menus across their restaurant empire.

Few if any have done as much as Chris and Jeff Galvin to reinvigorate classic French bistro food in the UK. Strange to think that their first restaurant, Bistrot de Luxe on London’s Baker Street, only opened in 2005 – that restaurant and the ones that followed have had such a profound effect on food in the UK, you could be forgiven for thinking it had been open for many decades.

London embraced the warmth of their cuisine so thoroughly that the brothers built a restaurant empire on the back of it. Galvin at Windows opened in 2006, gaining its Michelin star in 2010 (which it kept until the release of the 2020 Michelin Guide). Galvin La Chapelle opened in 2009 and gained its Michelin star in 2011, which it still holds today. Then there's Galvin Bistrot & Bar, a French bistrot off Old Spitalfields Market, and Galvin Bar & Grill in Bloomsbury, as well as Galvin Green Man, near their home town of Chelmsford. Some of their restaurants have since closed – both the Pompadour by Galvin and Galvin Brasserie de Luxe in Edinburgh have shut their doors, and the original Bistrot de Luxe was forced to close in 2018 – but the empire remains strong, and Galvin cuisine remains as satisfying as ever.

Growing up in a single-parent family in Essex, it was economical imperative that led Chris (twelve years older than his brother Jeff) to knock on the door of small neighbourhood restaurant, The Old Log, looking for work. But it was here he found his first mentor – Anthony Worral Thompson – who piqued Chris’ interest in the creative, modern food he was experimenting with at the time.

This start led to a commis job at the Ritz Hotel, under the direction of Michael Quinn, and the beginning of an extraordinary thirty year career that saw him working in some of the finest restaurants and hotels in the world. His glittering work history includes ten years working with Sir Terence Conran, opening restaurants Mezzo, Bluebird, Almeida and Orrery, the latter earning him a Michelin star in 2000. In 2003 he was the opening head chef at the now famous Wolseley, before teaming up with his brother in 2005.

Jeff followed his brother – 'my biggest mentor' – into the same local kitchen, and after catering college began his career at the Savoy Hotel, before progressing to the role of junior sous chef at the Michelin-starred Capital Hotel, working under Philip Britten. A later job, as sous chef of Nico Ladenis' Chez Nico, saw him form part of the team that was awarded a coveted third Michelin star.

But both brothers found more than professional mentors in the kitchens they worked in. That first restaurant offered them not only warmth, food and money' but also family. Says Chris: 'That’s what a restaurant brings... you’ve got instant family.' Today their restaurants remain family affairs – with siblings, children, cousins and partners working together in various capacities.

Encouraging these feelings of pastoral care, of developing new talent, is still just as important to the brothers as they manage their growing empire. From personally targeted staff development to their charity, Galvin’s Chance, which offers deeply troubled young people training and development for a career in hospitality; a desire to ‘give back’ is central to their work.

Their food is ingredient-led, with simplicity, passion and seasonality central to their cookery – 'the best ingredients we can find, treated simply,' says Chris. This attitude led to them championing cheaper cuts of meat (before it was trendy), even to them sleeping in their first restaurant to ensure they had access to the best produce, the moment it was available. They travelled all over England and France, buying direct, and have even created an annual award to recognise their prized and respected producers and suppliers.

Years of building relationships with these suppliers and market workers means they are not only well placed to get the first of the season’s bounty, but can also take advantage of any over-supply – even if this means processing five huge pallets of collapsingly-ripe strawberries that arrive unexpectedly on the doorstep.

This frugality is driven by a key tenet of the brothers’ ethos – affordability and the democratisation of food. An admirable drive to ensure that fine experiences are available to as many people as possible. No one is treated any differently in their restaurants – from the customer who just fancies dessert to those regulars who have returned hundreds of times.

And return they do for those dishes that have made the brothers famous. From their signature lasagne of Dorset crab – rich and decadent with a surprising pillowy lightness, to their soupe de poisson, served with a silky rouille and some excellent Gruyère. On the sweet side, their unpretentious and deceptively simple apple tarte tatin delights diners again and again, while their classic crêpes Suzette never fails to please.

The brothers are not as hands-on in the kitchen as their once were – one of their great talents is in nurturing talent, and that has left their restaurants in very good hands. Their legacy is not just built on the quality of their cooking and their exemplary dishes, but the new generation of chefs they have influenced, with grace and modesty.