London art galleries now have restaurants that are as good as their collections. Enjoy art and afternoon tea
January 8, 2016 | By:
How civilised: visiting a top London gallery then an exceptional meal in its restaurant. Six of the best, from the Portrait Restaurant at the NPG to the venerable Whistler at Tate Britain
Afternoon Tea at the National Portrait

Afternoon Tea at the National Portrait

London’s museums galleries occupy some of the most elegant residences and locations in the capital so it’s little surprise that their restaurants are top notch as well. These art gallery cafés and restaurants offer everything from afternoon tea with views of Big Ben to fine dining from some of the UK’s top chefs.

Bonhams: best for fine dining and wine pairing

Galleries Bonhams Restaurant 620

Bonhams, the Bond street auction house, has an excellent restaurant with extensive wine list

Not one but two Masters of Wine consult on the wine list at Bonhams Restaurant behind the state-of-the-art Bond Street auction rooms.

Far from making this a daunting experience, charming sommelier Charlotte Edgecombe ensures that every diner discovers a perfect by-the-glass match. Serious vinophiles can taste rare vintages from Bonham’s extensive cellar.

Chef Tom Kemble’s food is something to shout about: a sublime blend of French cooking techniques with Italian and Scandinavian produce with vibrant pure flavours. It is no surprise Kemble’s CV includes the acclaimed Faviken in Sweden and Hedone in west London.

Bonhams Restaurant is open for breakfast too; try the sourdough brioche with homemade jams before previewing the latest sale.

National Portrait Gallery: best for Sunday lunch
Afternoon Tea at the National Portrait

Afternoon Tea at the National Portrait

Portrait Restaurant at The National Portrait Gallery, has been transformed in elegant contemporary hues of charcoal and bronze. Former River Café chef Steve Beadle’s menu focuses on impeccable produce from Italy and the UK and the afternoon tea is a real treat.

Portrait restaurant National Portrait Gallery 620

Dorset crab and apple salad is a joy as is the Sunday lunch special: slow-roasted rare Hereford beef with Yorkshire pudding, goose fat potatoes and horseradish. Besides the food, the view of Westminster and beyond is a great draw on a clear day – request a window seat. A three-course Sunday lunch is £31.50. Portrait Restaurant is also open for supper on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

Wallace Collection: best for romantic grandeur
The Wallace collection 620

Courtyard dining at The Wallace Collection

This unashamedly romantic, pink-hued courtyard restaurant is perfect for al fresco dining, complete with trees and sculptures from the eclectic Wallace Collection of 18th-century French art, furniture and porcelain.

Despite the grandeur of the setting, the menu is infinitely flexible. It ranges from seasonal specials to lighter salads and tarts at lunch. On Friday and Saturday evenings, there’s a British tapas menu; think squash and goat’s curd tortilla. It’s a delightful setting for afternoon tea too.

Spring at Somerset House: best for elegance and Italian-influenced food

Spring restaurant Somerset House 620

The dining room at Spring

Combine a visit to the Courtauld Gallery‘s outstanding collection of impressionists and post-impressionists with a visit to Skye Gyngell’s restaurant, Spring, within the iconic Somerset House. Spring is an elegant, airy 19th-century dining room decorated in shades of white with exquisite cornicing, huge windows and an atrium framed by black olive trees.

The menu is rustic chic and produce-driven, with a strong Italian influence. The set-price lunch is £29.30 for three courses. The Salon serves enticing sandwiches such as crab, apple and walnut; hot bicherin, which is a Turin speciality of coffee and chocolate; and seasonal ices including quince, bay and verjuice.

Keeper’s House at Royal Academy: best for al fresco eating
Keepers House, Royal Academy, London. 620

The Keeper’s House garden, Photo from Richard Bryant, Arcaid Images

There’s a lush oasis of a garden with plenty of seating at The Keeper’s House, the renovated townhouse off The Royal Academy courtyard. After viewing the Royal Acdemy’s most recent treasures, treat yourself to a martini at The Shenkman bar.

The restaurant itself is more formal and calming, with green baize walls and architectural casts. Dishes are elegant with European and British flair. Cod with sea purslane, leeks and watercress, pork cutlet with lyonnaise potatoes and Yorkshire rhubarb syllabub highlight seasonality and superb ingredients.

Tate Britain: best for art within the restaurant 

Whistler Restaurant Tate Britain 620The Tate Britain’s Whistler restaurant is renowned for its Rex Whistler mural, amusingly titled The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meat, astonishingly completed back in 1927 when the restaurant first opened. The glamorous restaurant is also considered a greedy little secret among the capital’s bibulous, thanks to an impressive wine list curated by Hamish Anderson, with a huge choice by the glass, and exceptional value among its higher echelons.

Appropriately, the lunch-only menu (two courses for £27) is resoundingly British and especially sought after for its Sunday fore-rib of beef with all the trimmings followed by a traditional pud. Dinner is served only on the first Friday of each month.