In the second of our In Profile series, we speak to a chef and restaurateur who has been at the very heart of Marylebone’s transformation since the beginning – Chris Galvin of Marylebone’s Galvin Bistrot de Luxe.
I always loved food as a kid. My Gran had a wall garden where she grew everything and kept chickens. She had ten children so had a mini restaurant on her hands most of her life. I used to help her out and learn from her. I have always liked being around food.
The point which really sticks out in my childhood is when I was about eight my dad won a yankee on the horses, bought a Vauxhall Viva and drove us around France. The sights and the sounds of the food markets became a real inspiration for me. I think from then I was really hooked.
When did you first become associated with the Marylebone area?
I opened the Orrery restaurant for Terence Conran. When Terence said he was going to open a restaurant in Marylebone everyone was a bit shocked. The high street was full of charity shops and tumbleweeds were almost blowing down the street. Most of my friends said it would never work because it was one of London’s last real backwaters.
He gave me the brief of creating the Bibendum of the north. We did smart, accessible food and alongside the Conran Shop, Conran really set a precedent for the area.
After we opened, one by one I would see different chefs and restaurants opening along the high street, along with food shops. It was well ahead of its time but it has been great to see it become the ‘food Mecca’ it is today.
Was it this experience opening the Orrery that inspired yourself and your brother to open in Marylebone yourselves?
I fell in love with the area. We were the first Michelin star restaurant in the Conran group. When my brother and I decided to open a restaurant we looked everywhere, but I remembered there was a site on Baker Street in Alan Yau’s old restaurant.
I knew the area and thought it would work, but again my mates said Galvin Bistrot de Luxe wouldn’t work here. Marks and Spencer’s head office opposite had just closed and they felt the area was as low as it was going to get. But after opening the streets adjoining Baker Street and Marylebone High Street quickly filled up with shops, restaurants and hotels and it really began to work for us.
Being a restaurateur and a chef, do you find it difficult to strike a balance between the two?
I am fifty-five now so it is difficult. I am at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe most of my time now cooking four days a week. I am fortunate to have my brothers helping me out. All in all six of our family members work for the company and we all have our strengths. I love the cooking side of it but I do enjoy creating the look and feel, training staff and marketing a restaurant. In that sense I have become more of a restaurateur but I still love the cooking.
Where else do you eat in the Marylebone area?
I enjoy The Providores & Tapa Room, they use different kinds of produce to us so it is a nice change. I often go to Autre Pied and I know the staff at Bistrot de Luxe like it there too. Of course I also love La Fromagerie. 2850 is also worth mentioning – a great place to enjoy a glass of wine.
You now have six restaurants in the group, where do you feel most at home?
At Galvin Bistrot de Luxe – I call it the mother ship. I love this area because of my long association with it. I have seen the birth of it and it is so vibrant now. It is constantly evolving and I love this area. It has got that village aspect that has never gone away.
Some exciting people are here and coming here. Two of my favourite restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King (owners of the Wolsely) are opening here. It is sometimes quite scary that others are coming in and looking for a slice of the cake, but all it has done to us is kept us keen and competitive. Luckily we have really discerning customers.
What is it like working with your brother?
We get on famously! He has worked at three star Michelin level whereas I have only ever worked in one star. So he is a great technician and a great chef. I have managed to teach him more about being a restaurateur whereas previously he was really just focussed on being a chef. He is now a great businessman too and has an eye for design.
How have you seen Galvin Bistrot de Luxe change over the years?
We have remained pretty true to ourselves since we opened. We had to get that feeling of a lived in Parisian bistrot, whilst also keeping it smart and slick. We are now heading towards our tenth year next year, and that is all I ever wanted, longevity. It is not a word we use with restaurants in London – they come and go. I am really proud. A lot of our customers have in excess of a hundred visits. The local community and north London have really looked after us and supported us.
Is there another restaurant in the pipeline?
Not at the moment, but we never say never. We opened a lot of restaurants very quickly. In seven years we opened seven restaurants, which we never intended to do! We have invested in a head office off Oxford Street and have been working on our infrastructure – for the minute we have decided to polish what we have got so far and make it the best it can be.
More info: Galvin Bistrot de Luxe