At interview, Daniel Galmiche radiates warmth and charm. This classically trained chef, with extensive experience that includes Harvey’s in Bristol in the 1990s, and L’Ortolan and Cliveden since then, has set himself a new challenge at The Vineyard. Seeing the trend towards a more relaxed, consumer-led approach to dining, he now offers a unique dining concept that offers maximum choice in wine and food. Tables (to a maximum of six) can select wines and leave the kitchen to prepare dishes to match them; or tasting menus of three, four or five dishes can be chosen from a list of 18, to be eaten in any order with the only proviso that one is a dessert.
The sommeliers will then choose matching wines from three grades, priced accordingly. There are other alternatives including the Discovery menu of the five courses with matching wines, and the ultimate Judgement of Paris menu which features two wines, one Californian, one French, with each of seven courses!
Daniel admits the new formula places pressure on the kitchen, the sommeliers and front of house. However he demonstrates the energy and determination to make it work, and has adapted his kitchen to facilitate this approach. His mainly young brigade is also committed to its success.
Prioritising the needs of his diners rather than the safer, chef-led approach that might please the guides, is paramount. Accessibility to a wider range of smaller dishes and a greater range of (sometimes expensive) wines by the glass, is equally important. Indeed, he sees this as future of fine dining. The result so far has been impressive, with a vibrant relaxed ambience and sense of fun pervading the dining room. This is especially noticeable on Saturday evenings when 90 covers are often served.
Rightfully proud of his Decanter /Laurent-Perrier Restaurant of the Year 2012 award, Daniel has been advised to trademark his unique formula before it is copied. Indeed, chefs and food glitterati have been impressed by observing it in action. Moreover, many of the guests are Londoners, keen to escape the constraints of dining in the capital.
Daniel Galmiche’s cooking style, based on the classics, has become increasingly light, colourful and fragrant, with Mediterranean influences. Employing first rate ingredients, he is passionate about their provenance and sustainability, from line caught fish, hand dived scallops, single estate, grass fed meat, to maize/hand fed foie gras. Many seasonal dishes are locally sourced. Embracing modern techniques to enhance flavour and texture, dishes comprise relatively few ingredients, allowing the main element to shine. The use of foams, gels and purees is evident but not to excess and added not for mere decoration but to add taste and texture. Precise timing of meat and seafood dishes is a major strength which, given the various menu permutations, is a staggering feat in itself. So too is the final dressing of plates – not over-elaborate but labour intensive nevertheless. The overall result is clear flavours, balance of tastes and textures, and elegant, clean presentation.
Fine-Dining-Guide opted for a five course tasting menu with matching wines on a busy Thursday evening in March 2013.
The three breads – country farm, soda and rosemary and potato – were all exemplary in their crisp crust and delicate crumb.
A soft disc of guinea fowl ballotine, expertly poached, rolled and chilled to give a mild gamey flavour, was given a lift by the addition of lemon zest. Textural contrast was provided in the crisp yellow frisee leaves dressed with lemon and a scattering of sourdough crumbs mixed with walnuts. The luscious floral notes and minerality of the wine was a highly satisfying match with the food. (Wine: Kistier Chardonnay, California 2009)
Pressed terrine of foie gras had a creamy texture and superb flavour. Dressed with celery gel and raisin puree to give sweetness and carrot batons for texture, this was another refined, balanced composition. The magical finishing touch was spice of angels which gave a gentle anise fragrance to the dish. Again, the acidic apple and pear notes in the wine proved a good foil for the richness on the plate. (Wine: Torbreck Australia, 2008)
A tranche of foie gras was seared to produce a caramelised crust and soft melting interior. Smooth celeriac puree mixed with cardamom added an earthy warmth, whilst orange and chicory salad gave a freshness and zing which cut the richness of the delectable piece of offal.
Seared, hand dived Orkney scallops retained their sweet succulence under their caramelised crust. This was balanced by Iberico ham which added a mild saltiness with broccoli florets and gel giving a gentle bitterness. A sprinkling of blanched almonds provided a nutty textural contrast to the finished dish. The crisp, dry Alsace Riesling with lemon notes complemented these elements well. (Wine: Trimbach F Emile, France 2007)
Both fish dishes benefited from accurate seasoning and timing, with minimal garnishes. The thick fillet of Cornish sea bass had delicate translucent flakes under its crisp skin. Wilted red chard, chive dressing and a sprinkling of quinoa were lively, well balanced accompaniments. The honey and spice flavours of the dry Californian white did full justice to this to this dish. (Wine: Tables Creek, California 2009)
Softer in texture but equally flavoursome was the fillet of Cornish brill. Here, the delicate sweetness of this pan roasted fish was balanced the more robust, earthy flavours of chanterelles, salsify and Swiss chard. A rich, intense poultry jus brought the contrasting elements together well. This dish could take a medium bodied red wine which the Pinot Noir did perfectly. (Wine: Byron Pinot Noir, California 2009)
The poultry dish married the crisp skinned breast of corn fed chicken with a classic accompaniment of mushroom in puree form to intensify its flavour. Kale added both colour and flavour whilst potato and chive ribbons, stir fried slowly, gave a crisp texture and mild onion fragrance. The saucing for this dish was again exemplary. The use of the same Pinot Noir as for the brill amply demonstrated the both the versatility of the wine and the skill of the sommelier. (Wine: Byron Pinot Noir, California 2009)
The final savoury dish was saddle of Balmoral estate venison, cooked to a medium rare to maximise its mild, gamey flavour. Cooking this dish reflects Daniel’s meticulous attention to detail to show case ingredients at their best: the venison is lightly brushed with espresso from his own coffee mix before being gently cooked sous-vide and finished in the pan to add colour and more flavour. Finally, before being sent to the table, a grating of 70% Andoa single estate Fair Trade chocolate from Venezuela is added. This regal dish, in all senses of the word, was master-class of game cookery, producing a tender, almost melting texture. The sweetness of butternut squash, the textural contrast of hazelnuts and pearl barley and the vibrant notes of spring greens helped to make this a highly satisfying dish. Pairing a Uruguayan red might not seem to be an immediate choice, but the one chosen had a lovely sweetness with spice and oak notes that worked well with the venison. Again, the breadth of knowledge of the sommelier and the ability to share this with disarming charm was amply demonstrated. (Wine: Preludio Deicas Tannat, Uruguay 2010)
Often, desserts can be an anti-climax after the embarrassment of riches that precede them. This was not the case, the pastry section displaying its strengths to the full. The new menu concept requires consistency across the courses as well as amongst sweet and savoury.
Griottine cherry and cranberry terrine balanced sweet and sour elements well in a layered composition that was complemented by a fragrant pistachio parfait. The strength of flavour of the kirsch marinated cherries helped to make this a very adult dessert, white port being a very acceptable wine accompaniment (Wine: Caldas Alves de Sousa, Portugal NV)
Finally, a delicate cylinder of dark chocolate filled with ginger ice cream, and pineapple, was crowned with a tonka bean emulsion which added a characteristic fragrance of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves.
Good coffee and mini lemon tarts, passion fruit jellies and chocolate truffles completed a first rate meal. Pino Marletta, Restaurant Host Manager, ensured that service went smoothly, with dishes and wines being clearly and concisely explained. This was a highly memorable tasting menu that did not falter on any dish and which skilfully balanced the composition of courses. It is a mystery why a Michelin star has not been awarded, but it can only be a matter of time before this distinction, gained by Daniel Galmiche in his previous restaurants, is achieved. Fine Dining Guide will watch his progress with interest.