Oliver Peyton is often hailed as a visionary. Restaurants he has launched ‘ahead of their time’ include Mash & Air (Manchester), Coast, Isola and the Atlantic. None of these endured, not least because – once the novelty had gone – the basics of a good-value dining package were often absent.
Presumably those who run the National Gallery – where Peyton has just launched the restaurant we review today – focussed on the ‘visionary’ aspect of his CV. Or did he just offer them more money than anyone else? This would help explain the ambitious prices now being charged at the place once called Crivelli’s Garden (which – despite a revamp by the fabled David Collins – still feels like the gallery café as which it was conceived).
Mr Peyton’s pitch to his prospective landlords seems also to have included putting an emphasis on native fare, and the determinedly British menu – in a vein similar to that at his nearby Inn the Park – does indeed read well.
The prices, however, tend to raise expectations to which the food does not generally measure up. One of the best dishes was a delicious smoked salmon starter with beetroot and orange. It is fortunate that its tastes were intense, however, as the fish came in just three tiny slivers. Similarly a sea bream main course was quite good, but – at £20, including spuds – what left the lasting impression was the daintiness of the serving. Other dishes – such as a dry pork belly main course and some quite nasty chips – were simply below par.
The National opened this restaurant to coincide with its ‘Americans in Paris’ show, which has been widely reviewed as a much-ado-about-nothing affair. A similar conclusion about the restaurant – with its elevated prices – is difficult to avoid.