Brunch should never be a rushed affair: it’s an indulgence, after all, an excuse to catch up on lost time, with old friends, or to slowly and effectively revive yourself from the after-effects of the night before. Galvin at Windows realises this, and their brunch menu is the right sort of immoderate, with endless small plates of smoked and cured fish and Iberian bulgogi, divine breads, and eggs with impossibly golden yolks. I could spend hours just picking through the Korean-inspired cured fish plates; they pair particularly well with the sharp cut of the champagne that’s so generously topped up throughout the meal. This might not be your traditional brunch fair, but somehow, combining the best of Korean and French cooking works well, without ever feeling forced or ostentatious.
But head chef Joo Won never initially planned to focus on Korean cuisine – instead, the inspiration came to him on a gastronomical tour of his home country with his Galvin at Windows compatriots Fred Sirieix and Chris Galvin.
“I’m still more comfortable working on French and European dishes; I wasn’t particularly interested in adding a Korean or Asian touch until we went back a few years ago,” he explains. “Korean flavour just wasn’t in my thoughts when I lived there, and I wasn’t even a chef at the time. But the more time I spent working in London and seeing chefs from around the world, the more I realised that they all had one thing in common – pride in their national cuisine. That led me to start paying more attention to my origins.”
Won was twenty years old when he left South Korea, armed with an industrial engineering degree and fresh out of a course in patisserie. “I’m not a very academic person, but I decided to study industrial engineering because I thought it would be a chance to work with my hands,” he laughs. His mother suggested that enrolling in a pastry course might give him something more suitable to work on after he finished his studies. “I enjoyed it a lot; I loved the feeling of it in my hands, the smells, the taste, and the people around me showing interest in what I was doing and learning. Then, one day, they recommended that I should see authentic French pastry and cuisine.”
That led to a move to France, where he immersed himself fully in the study of the local cuisine, learning not just the ratios and ingredients required to craft the perfect dish, but the heart and the passion that goes into creating a true soul meal, too. Eventually, he gravitated to London, where he joined forces with Sirieix and Galvin, and, as the story goes, began to see how he could introduce something completely different to the often-staid world of fine dining.
But a French-Korean fusion? Naysayers be damned; though the two countries’ gastronomic offerings might seem diametrically opposed, Won has combined his experience in the kitchen with his structural ingenuity to engineer something that works so well it almost seems obvious.
One of many examples of this is a soy-braised pork belly and spicy cabbage, which partners beautifully with a very French, buttery Comte crust. Elsewhere on the menu, kimchi – that Korean staple, made of fermented cabbage and gochugaru – makes an illustrious appearance, unfurling itself luxuriously into bowls of creamy risotto.
There’s only one way to finish a midday meal, and that’s with French patisserie – I opt for a Paris-Brest, a little tower of choux pastry standing proudly amid a tumbling of liquid chocolate.
Joo Won has fed us marvellously and the only problem, as I see it, is that brunch is an early enough meal that you’re expected to go and make something of your day afterwards. It would be farr too tempting to head to the bar for a cocktail and just watch the world go by.
Galvin at Windows, 28th Floor, London Hilton on Park Lane, 22 Park Lane, Mayfair, W1K 1BE, galvinatwindows.com.