June 2017: Refurbished and with a tweaked name (they dropped the 'Gallery'), this Peyton & Byrne all-day spot at the National Gallery now offers a restaurant alongsde the 'grab and go' self-service cafe.
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For a “convenient” central location, an older fan base tip the “comfortable banquettes” of this tranquil haunt, right on Trafalgar Square; “disengaged” service, though, leaves some reporters decidedly disenchanted.
“An ideal location for exhausted tourists!” – this “haven of relative tranquility”, right on Trafalgar Square, offers “classy” British snacks which “mainly succeed”; a “great-value” breakfast is the top tip.
National Gallery Café WC2
It's nearly 20 years since the V&A famously promoted its restaurant under the strap-line 'An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached'. Sadly, though, that the dining revolution of the intervening time too often passed over arts-venue catering. So despite 'name' backing from Oliver Peyton, we approached this new section of the National Gallery - which boasts its own entrance on St Martin's Lane, and opening till 11pm - with no great expectations.
Initial impressions are excellent though. David Collins - the UK's leading name in restaurant design - has created a relaxing, solidly panelled space that feels like it has always been there. The style is informal (there's a self-service section to the side). But it's yet another nail in the coffin for the traditionally held notion that there's nowhere nice to eat near Trafalgar Square.
The menu is huge and simple, in grand Continental-café style, and with an array of breakfasting options available till noon. Snackier options predominate such as salads, a burger, tortilla or macaroni. Our selection included one of a handful of more ambitious dishes - duck confit with lentils. It was nothing fancy but hard to fault, and enjoyable fuel on a cold day. Amongst puds, quality ices are a particular feature, and 'The National Catastrophe' - a particularly calorific sundae-like creation - continued an enjoyable if not exceptional theme to the meal.
Service teetered between being well-meaning and a little amateurish. But though one might hesitate to use the space for client-entertaining, my dining companion - the MD of an armoured vehicle manufacturer on his way to meet the MOD - professed himself well-satisfied!
All-in-all this is certainly an ace-looking café with a museum attached. For a civilised central rendezvous, it's well worth bearing in mind.