Mere gallery cafés aren’t quite enough in 2022. At long last, eye-wateringly expensive cups of weak tea and cakes better suited to the Natural History Museum’s palaeontology collections are finally out of favour. While some of London’s popular museums and galleries are now served by soulless chains, others are home to genuinely exciting restaurants. Members of this new breed are each notable in their own right, not as mere afterthoughts, as a place to refuel after traipsing big ticketed exhibitions.Read More
The Best Restaurants In London Art Galleries and Museums
The places across town where there’s as much to eat as there is to see
Osteria at the Barbican Centre
If Osteria’s dining room is unattractive, be thankful for the views of the brutalist Barbican Centre. (Try to get a table on the edge of the dining room, looking out.) Elsewhere, there’s plenty to love here. Modern Italian bistro cooking is showcased in simple dishes. A fillet of plaice is modestly presented with new potatoes and samphire, for instance, and dressed with a butter and caper sauce. Grilled octopus is a clear speciality though (with more potatoes and capers), as is the ham-wrapped saddle of rabbit saltimbocca. One of London’s more underrated restaurants.
The Great Court Restaurant at the British Museum
At the centre of the British Museum, the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court is the largest covered public square in Europe, enclosed by a glass roof designed by Foster & Partners. Offering guests an eagle-eyed view over the museum, The Great Court restaurant serves an impressive afternoon tea menu alongside a set lunch menu of refined brasserie dishes. Highlights include ham hock and chicken terrine with tart gooseberry ketchup, broad bean scotch egg with red pepper tapenade, and rosewater and vanilla poached apricot torte.
Replacing the also-lauded Whitechapel Refectory in 2020, Nick Gilkinson — formerly of fellow listee Garden Museum Cafe — and Joe Fox — formerly of Petersham Nurseries — Townsend has gone from strength to strength in its short, pandemic-clipped life. Dishes like fried Wensleydale with heather honey and smoked chilli; wild mushrooms with egg yolk, Berkswell cheese, and truffle; and poached root vegetables with potato cake and green sauce betray the fact that this is a modern British restaurant aware that much of modern British is really old European with an accent.
At Somerset House, Skye Gyngell’s Spring restaurant showcases accomplished fine dining with a prominent focus on seasonal produce, with ingredients at the forefront. The a la carte menu has a broad selection of gorgeous dishes, but it’s the ‘scratch’ menu that’s most exciting. Derived from Gyngell’s Australian roots, the menu’s name honours ‘scratch tea’ — a sustainable practice of creatively producing dishes from scraps of ingredients found in the fridge. Here the menu is served between 5:30 – 6:30pm, featuring a daily-changing three-course meal. Think pasta made with re-rolled offcuts, leftover roasted vegetable soup, or lamb shank with fennel outer leaves and carrot top salsa verde.
José Pizarro @ Royal Academy of Arts
The famed Spanish chef opened two restaurants at the Royal Academy of Arts last year: a formal restaurant — with the likes of strawberry gazpacho and Ibérico presa — and a tapas bar bringing croquetas; truffle sandwiches; tortillas; empanadas; and all of the usual José classics to Mayfair.
The National Gallery’s new restaurant comes from the team behind Muriel’s Kitchen, offering a contemporary European menu spanning brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. In addition to vaunting views over Trafalgar Square, the restaurant space has been designed to retain the venue’s original features, with much of the furniture either vintage or specifically designed, including bespoke trolleys which glide around stacked with British cheeses. From the dinner menu, notable dishes include soused Cornish mackerel and sea lettuce tacos with crème fraiche, avocado and pickled radishes, saddleback pork and Westcombe cheddar croquettes, or glazed Brussels sprouts with honey and chestnuts.
Tate Modern Level 6 Kitchen & Bar
On the sixth floor of the Blavatnik Building, the Tate Modern Kitchen & Bar boasts impressive views across the river. Service is casual and the atmosphere relaxed, while the menu has a strong focus on seasonal British cooking. Simple, yet accomplished. Moreover, to accompany various exhibitions, specific artist-inspired lunch menus are occasionally available. To coincide with the current Cezanne exhibition, for instance, a set menu of quintessential Provençal dishes is offered, including pissaladière with thyme, anchovy, tapenade, duck cassoulet, and Tarte Tropezienne.
The Garden Cafe
An urban oasis in central London, The Garden Café is affixed to The Garden Museum at the foot of Lambeth Bridge. Natural light floods the spacious dining room and the constantly changing menu features simple, seasonal dishes — elegantly presented and served on classic white plates, rarely featuring more than three main ingredients. These may include cold breakfast radishes with cod’s roe; cockles, bacon and laverbread; or gently spiced breast of lamb with chickpeas and bitter chicory: substance over style at its best.
From the team behind Soane’s Kitchen and Social Pantry Kitchen, Crane’s Kitchen is billed as a contemporary neighbourhood restaurant and café within the South London Gallery. While lunch is also served, it’s the dishes that lean towards breakfast and brunch that deserve the most recognition. Vegan ‘nduja butter features alongside grilled asparagus on sourdough toast with pickled shallots, ‘Turkish’ eggs are accompanied by confit garlic labneh and a ‘zero waste’ herb oil, the breakfast bap is doused with ‘rescued’ green tomato ketchup, and oat milk crème fraîche joins ‘zero waste’ pesto in a mushroom dish comprising chestnut mushrooms and pickled shimeji.
Flotsam & Jetsam at Dulwich Picture Gallery
An Antipodean-style venue from Bovingdons Catering, Flotsam & Jetsam at Dulwich Picture Gallery isn’t necessarily the most ground-breaking gallery restaurant, but nor is it amongst the least inspired. Brunch is a big deal here, with dishes broadly revolving around fancy cereal, pancakes, avocado and feta on toast, or various egg dishes. The eggs Benedict with an espresso-infused brown butter hollandaise is particularly interesting — ideal for refuelling during a visit to England’s oldest public gallery.