Recently refurbished, one of London’s most artistically impressive dining rooms, offering a dining experience well above the cultural-destination average, plus a wine list of some note.
Society artist Rex Whister was in his early 20s when, in 1926, he was commissioned to decorate a new dining room at the National Gallery of British Art (which went on to become known as the Tate half a decade later). Having survived the early misfortune (1928) of being flooded, this is London’s most obviously ‘artistic’ restaurant dining room by far. Where else could you lunch entirely surrounded by a sylvan mural such as ‘The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats’?
The setting being a very special one (even if the room is oddly bisected by a row of sturdy columns), the natural fear is that the rest of the experience will be a bit of a let-down. That, however, was far from being our experience on a visit on New Year’s Day.
The menu – traditional in spirit, historical in theming, and with the occasional gentle twist to stop it being boring – is nicely judged both for the setting and for the crowd the place is likely to attract. Our family party enjoyed everything served, with the exception of some palid pÃ¢tisserie – the cheese plate was much the better option.
There was the occasional real highlight too – such as the bread, and a surprisingly excellent plate of lemon sole goujons. And wines, in accordance with long-standing precedent, remain impressive – the sommelier-selected matching options, not expensive, were interesting and appropriate, offering a refreshing change from the known-and-usual trap into which most diners naturally tend to fall.
Only one real irritation: is anyone at all tasked with the job of sweeping up used glasses? The otherwise charming and efficient staff seem quite blind to the build up of the detritus of dining. By the end of our meal the unsightly litter on the table still included not just all the wine glasses, but even the remnants of our pre-prandial drinks.
A room like this cries out for the proprieties – perhaps even including a bit of gentle ‘brushing down’? – to be properly observed.