Celebrity chef brothers bring their signature cooking to the Mideast
Celebrity chef brothers bring their signature cooking to the Mideast
The Galvin brothers, Chris and Jeff, have been exploring entering this market for a while now, but wanted to wait until they had the right partners and team in place. It was about three years ago that that they finally committed, when they found that Dubai-based holding company Meraas’ vision for the Citywalk complex aligned perfectly with their “family-led” ethos.
The duo’s French brasserie and patisserie concept, Demoiselle, is located in the complex and it is soon to be joined by their newest restaurant, Galvin Dubai.
The older of the two brothers, Chris Galvin, is in Dubai to launch the restaurant and spoke to Arab News on the upcoming launch and the pair’s dining style.
“I’m a big family person, I like the thought of people having lunch or dinner, catching up, celebrating things together, that’s what our restaurants are about.”
This affinity with family may have something to do with their uniqueness — they are the only brother-duo celebrity chef brand with multiple awards and Michelin-starred restaurants to their credit. What most people do not know is that there is a third (middle) brother who also works with them in the business, but stays behind the scenes handling procurement and supplies.
Chris describes his relationship with Jeff as balanced and credits their individual humility for perfecting this dynamic. “I’m more of a dreamer, he’s more of a technician,” he said. “But the best thing about working together is knowing you’re always there for each other. We love each other desperately and we don’t talk an awful lot, but we have that funny thing where we know what the other one is doing.”
So, what did they jointly conjure up for their first fine dining restaurant outside the UK? For one, they have created a wholly bespoke concept for this region, instead of simply transplanting one of their existing successful brands.
Explaining the inspiration behind the concept, Chris said: “As soon as I step off the plane here, I immediately start to think of lighter foods, salads, carpaccio and so on — that’s what I want to eat here, I think Mediterranean flavors work well. We started thinking about the Mediterranean basin, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone else using before — this is a first. We’ve drawn influences from the west coast of Italy, south of France, Spain’s eastern coast and even North Africa — all of those flavors, you will find here. It’s light, sun-kissed, with hints of the spices of southern Europe.”
The menu will evolve according to the seasons, with seasonal ingredients — another key pillar of the Galvin brand — playing a big part. Chris defined the culinary philosophy as “market-led ingredients, carefully and simply cooked, humbly served in a highly professional but relaxed environment with first-class service.”
All of these boxes seem to have been successfully ticked in the Dubai restaurant. Whether it is the pretty-as-a-picture organic beetroot salad, with a delicate truffle goat’s curd texturally complemented by candied walnuts and chard, or the succulent pot roast chicken with puy lentils and pearl barley risotto, dripping with flavor, the menu seems to effectively capture the “flavors of the sun” that it set out to, underpinned by the finesse of French technique that the brothers have built their reputation on.
Some Galvin signature dishes are on offer as well, including their not-to-be-missed lasagna of Devon crab — a mousse-like confection of crab and scallop meat encased in a light pasta parcel atop a buttery, flavor-packed bisque, drizzled with lobster oil as a finishing touch.
It is masterful dishes such as this that will help the new restaurant stand out in a competitive market with discerning diners. “There’s a lot of energy here, I’ve always thought the Middle East was exciting,” Chris said. “Diners here really know what they want. I find there’s a lot of interest in what restaurants offer, and there’s a broad spectrum of different concepts to explore.”
And explore they will. Chris believes than a country like Saudi Arabia could be a successful new home for a concept like Demoiselle, in particular.
“I don’t know enough about the rest of the region yet, we haven’t really looked at it properly, but now I think we really should,” he said. “I just had a friend who is an international restaurant consultant suggest to me as well that we ought to explore Saudi Arabia. We’d be open to looking into it, as long as we can find the right ingredients and people… and feel like we can honestly, competently deliver something that we’d be proud of.”
This emphasis on having the right people on the ground resonates throughout our conversation. While the hand-picked Dubai team is ably led by head chef Luigi Vespero (who formerly worked with the brothers in London), Chris promises that theirs will not be yet another “soulless” restaurant with just their name above the door. “It has to bear scrutiny,” he says. “Whatever we do has to be there for a reason.”
Comptoir Libanais brings the Levant to London
- Comptoir Libanais has 22 branches around the UK
- The restaurant is known for its colorful interior and delicious food
LONDON: For years, London has been known for embracing culinary tastes from all over the world, served up by establishments ranging from snazzy and glitzy new restaurants to venues that are more than 100 years old and have been handed down from one generation to the next.
Comptoir Libanais (Lebanese Canteen), which was founded in 2008, stands out among the more recent arrivals for bringing a true, authentic taste of the Levant to London and beyond, with almost two dozen restaurants in the English capital and other cities including Birmingham, Manchester, Oxford and Liverpool.
For years when he was a child growing up in Algeria, Tony Kitous, the restaurant’s founder and owner, watched his mother create tasty meals for his family. This was something he carried with him when he moved to England at the age of 18.
“I came to London with a dream but it wasn’t until I scrubbed dishes and slept in friends’ houses that I realized what I wanted my dream to be: To bring a taste of home to London, a city I grew to enjoy and love,” he said.
Kitous’s passion for Middle Eastern food and what it symbolizes, the culture and hospitality, is clear in his colorfully decorated restaurants, which resemble traditional Beirut canteens or souks. The menu offers a mix of hearty and light dishes, including mezzes, wraps, grills, salads and traditional side dishes.
“I want all visitors to feel right at home, even if they’re on the go,” said Kitous. “The patrons that try the restaurant for the first time can see how we choose the freshest ingredients from our partners and can truly feel as if they’re in the Levant region.
“Lebanese food is universal. It has a bit of everything in it without having the ingredients over powering one another — all dishes complement one another.”
Every dish, every ingredient and even the plates on which they are served are personally selected by Kitous. “Nothing but fresh is allowed here,” he said.
It all sounds great but does the food live up to the expectations? I dined at the Oxford Street branch and found that the fatoush, hummus and cheese sambousak were great starters. The fresh halloumi manousha had just the right amount of crispiness around the edge, with a soft middle complementing the cheese.
The lamb and prune tagine, served with a side of couscous, swept us to the streets of Morocco. The lamb was soft and melted in the mouth, complemented by the sweetness of the prunes. As a vegetarian option, the aubergine tagine was balanced and tasty.
For Arab diners the menu is filled with the tastes of home and it is hard to imagine how anyone could limit themselves to ordering just one dish. Every option was perfectly seasoned and the table was a beautiful, tasty mess — truly a canteen experience.
The interior design of all Comptoir Libanais venues is similar, offering a burst of color and eccentricity through mismatched tiles, colorful furniture and walls adorned with old Arabic movie posters, including one of legendary actress Sirine Jamal Al-Dine with her signature smile. Thanks to an open kitchen in the back, the restaurant is always bustling with activity and the sounds of patrons enjoying their meals. You could really sense the hints of Kitous’s childhood memories imprinted in the decor. Whether you are in the mood for a hearty breakfast, a quick lunch or a good, delicious dinner to end your day, Comptoir Libanais will not disappoint.