Where culture meets gastronomy: dine at 10 of the best London museum restaurants
Walking around an art museum can be tiring work. Just ask Stendhal, the 19th century author who famously suffered from heart palpitations and fainting spells in the face of masterworks. Whether or not you, too, suffer from Stendhal syndrome, you’re bound to need a refresher after a few hours on your feet. Luckily, you won’t have to wander far for a restorative repast. At these 10 London museum restaurants, from The Keeper’s House at the Royal Academy and the Portrait Restaurant at the National Portrait Gallery to the Rex Whistler Restaurant at the Tate Britain, you’ll dine within sight of priceless pieces – and very well, at that.
Situated within the Zaha Hadid-designed wing of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, The Magazine Restaurant is a highlight among London museum restaurants – the swooping shapes and white-on-white design scheme make it look like a futuristic airplane hangar. But despite the visually expressive setting, it’d be a mistake to overlook the food: guided by head chef Emmanuel Eger, the menu includes global plates like grilled courgettes with ras el hanout and goats curd.
If you’re visiting the Royal Academy and feeling peckish, it’s only natural to pair the British masterworks with British fine dining. Happily, it’s just a short stumble over to The Keeper’s House, where you can find seasonal dishes like welsh lamb shoulder ragout with creamy polenta. And it shouldn’t be hard to find: just look for the Tracey Emin neon over the entrance.
Dine at the Tate Britain’s aptly named Rex Whistler Restaurant and you’ll be almost rubbing shoulders with the artworks – the eatery does take its name, after all, from the vibrant Whistler murals that wreath the walls. Do note, as well, the wine list, which is infamous for its scope and quality. A bit of tipsy perusing after lunch really sounds a treat, doesn’t it?
While it’s only footsteps from the scrum of Trafalgar Square, you’d never know it: The National Dining Rooms at the National Gallery are a humming sanctuary for members of the culturati, both local and transient. In a warm, wood-lined dining room designed by architect David Collins, diners indulge in plates like grilled octopus with Jerusalem artichokes and wild fennel.
London past and London present: you’ll encounter both when dining at the Portrait Restaurant at the National Portrait Gallery. Inside the museum are portraits of famous Britons, while, from the restaurant, you’ll be able to take in panoramic views of the city as it stands today. And then there’s the food – even if you’re not hungry enough for a full meal, you can’t go wrong with a traditional afternoon tea.
The Wallace Collection, hidden away in Marylebone, is itself something of an undiscovered jewel on the London museumscape, and its unabashedly lovely Wallace Restaurant is a standout among the top London museum restaurants. In-the-know culture vultures venture here for elegantly catered afternoons – and terrace seats under the luminous skylight.
Set across three visually splendid dining rooms, the V&A Café is a wonderfully pleasurable environment in which to while away the afternoon, in the company of a scone and a pot of Earl Grey. It’s also worth noting that, in an earlier guise, the V&A Café was the world’s first art museum eatery. Perhaps that calls for a toast with something harder, come to think of it.
Recently refurbished, the Court Restaurant is more than just a way station for those whose feet have wearied while wandering Britain’s most attended museum (though it is surely that, too). From its white tablecloth-bedecked tables, guests are afforded eagle-eye views of the museum’s heart – as well as refined cooking that is the perfect match for the impressive setting.
Given that it’s partnered with the Design Museum, the Blueprint Café takes its aesthetics seriously. For evidence, just look to the patio-style dining space, whose windows look out onto Tower Bridge and that ineffable London skyline (with binoculars provided, to really take in the view). The philosophy extends to Chef Martyn Moody’s menu of clever, brightly flavoured fare.
The Gallery Mess, like the venue in which it’s situated, is an admirable mix of classic and cool. Within a brilliantly white space – broken up by brick walls and, naturally, pieces of art – well-appointed gallery-goers fork through plates of lamb noisette, wild mushroom risotto, and even whole lobster.