It has to be said, I am not a big fan of the Hilton group. Their progeny notwithstanding, I have had the misfortune to stay regularly at the Hilton Metropole in Birmingham (is this different) and the experience hasn't left me thinking kindly towards them.
So when we started collecting vouchers from The Telegraph a couple of weeks ago to eat in any one of a massive number of Michelin-recommended restaurants, MCD was more than surprised when I announced my first choice was Galvin at Windows, on the 28th floor of the London Hilton on Park Lane. I have longed to eat at their brasserie near Baker Street and never managed it, so this was potentially a gift from the gods.
The offer entitled us to a three course menu for £25 - not bad, not bad... We deliberately arrived early for cocktails at Trader Vic's in the basement - in homage to Ma and her swinging London days, before launching ourselves up to the 28th floor. (Not literally, I mean, we didn't have rocket backpacks or anything - we took the conventional lift route).
Our table was right on the podium, bathed in the evening sun. The views over the Serpentine were just spectacular - stunning in the light. Dragging our eyes away from the view (there'll be no romantic gazing into each other's eyes here...) we ordered from the menu - four choices per course. For starters, I chose the red mullet escabeche with mackerel brandade and coriander cress, MCD the ham hock terrine with gribiche sauce, sourdough and an unexpectedly generous roundel of foie gras in the centre.
While we waited for our wine - a bottle of Gigondas, a weakness of mine whenever I see it - we had an amuse-bouche of lightly jellied tomato consomme with a gazpacho of vegetables on the top. Light, refreshing, essentially tomato-ey, it was a good start.
Then the starters, The red mullet was excellent, my only quibble not enough of the brandade (a mere teaspoon on some melba-style olive bread). Matt's terrine was equally good, and I managed to nick a bit of his foie gras (in training for later).
For main, we had both chosen the duck with peach tart fine, Bigarade sauce and carrot and ginger puree which came with some slightly incongruous pak choi. I have to say, the main course choices inspired me less - risotto primavera (why? It's summer), pork belly with lentils (my default dish) and steamed cod with squid which would have tempted me apart from the fact I don't like cod... It was delicious, I'm always a sucker for meat-fruit combinations and there was more than the usual smear of sauce which makes me happy.
Desserts are always a tricky one. I don't have a sweet tooth at all, so my usual option is cheese (£5 supplement). But I was prepared - like the trooper I am - to have the creme brulee if required. 'No,' said MCD. 'I'll do it - I'll be a man, wade into the breach and order the brulee, damn it. You have the cheese, my sweet.' Reader, this generosity of spirit is one of the many reasons I married him. And then, joy of joys, there was a cheese trolley. Yes to Epoisses, Camembert with Calvvados, a particularly pungent Gorgonzola, a little goats cheese and something else I'd never had before but the waiter insisted I tried. God, it was good. I was happy, content, snuffling round my cheese wheel.
And then MCD's dessert arrived. Now - what-ever, as they say - to the creme brulee. I make them at home, I love them, but they're not that interesting to me unless every other option has been exhausted. And then I noticed the napkin at the side of the plate, with something lightly golden peeking shyly out from beneath the folds. 'What's that?' I queried, as my hand wandered over. 'Nothing. Get off. GET OFF.' came the stern reply. 'No, really, what is it?' 'Mine'. Faced with such opposition I employed guerilla tactics got to the napkin and whipped it off to reveal - much like the clams in the Walrus and the Carpenter I always think - 2 golden madeleines crouching there.
With them revealed to the world, and not for hiding, MCD let me have a bite. As I say, I don't have a sweet tooth, but reader those were the best damn madeleines this side of the 20th century. A la recherche du plus des madeleines, as I believe Proust did not say. Warm, slightly eggy but in a good way, light.... well I'm ashamed to say we fought. It got ugly. There was creme brulee and bribery involved. We're friends again, but you know... it was close.
We finished with the world's most expensive espresso (£4.75 - the same as MCD's pot of tea) and petits fours from L'artisan du chocolat. The bill was a rather excessive £140 inc service, but with nearly a tenner for tea and coffee, £5 on cheese and lots of bottled water and a treaty bottle of wine, it's not too bad. And there was the view. And the madeleines...