Food for thought: London’s best museum and gallery restaurants

Museum and gallery restaurants have an important part to play in keeping everyone from the casual observer to the serious academic fed and watered. Step forward this lot, who do just that but to a standard far higher than you might expect.

Photo Credit: © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Portrait at the National Portrait Gallery
The views from Portrait are straight from a tourist’s deepest fantasy, including Nelson’s Column, the London Eye, and Big Ben. While you’re admiring them, you might as well settle in for lunch – braised lamb shoulder followed by honey rum baba, perhaps? – or a spot of afternoon tea.

Bryn Williams and Spring at Somerset House
Not one, not two, but five restaurants grace the halls of one of the UK’s foremost art centres. Bryn Williams’ eponymous restaurant and Skye Gyngell’s Spring are chief among them – the former for its Welsh-themed menu where veg takes the lead role; the latter for its seasonal British cooking with a focus on sustainability.

Garden Museum Café at the Garden Museum
Backed up by some remarkable pedigree in the kitchen and arguably one of the best wine lists in Lambeth, the Garden Museum’s café is well worth a visit. The focus is on simple, quality ingredients so expect dishes like gnocchi with wild garlic or pollock with roasted fennel. It is, as you might expect, best visited when the flowers are out to bloom.

V&A Café
Want to know what museum cafés looked like during the period of Victorian revival? This is your chance. With its stained glass windows and imposing columns circa 1868, the V&A’s café is the oldest of its kind in London. Compared to the ‘gaily-adorned’ cafés of Paris of the time, it’s a fantastic spot to enjoy the likes of fresh salads, sandwiches, and tea and scones.

Photo Credit: Nic Crilly-Hargrave for Tate Modern.

Level 9 Restaurant at Tate Modern
When does modern art transcend its allotted space? The search begins at Level 9, where prettily-plated modern European dishes are made with carefully sourced British produce. Head chef Jon Atashroo has spent time behind the pass at Elliot’s Café and Arbutus – so art or otherwise, diners are in good hands here.

Rochelle Canteen at the ICA
Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold’s Rochelle Canteen is head and shoulders above just about any other restaurant of its ilk in London – it just so happens to be tucked round the side of the Institute of Contemporary Arts on The Mall. The theme is, like the name, modern canteen-style: rough-round-the-edges British dishes (soups, pies, faggots, shoulders of lamb), only with a shrewd chef in charge of them.

Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain
Named after the wartime British artist (the room-sized mural ‘Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats’ in the restaurant is probably his most recognised work), this place is going strong after 93 years. The award-winning wine list and ambitious British menu might have something to do with it.

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This is a guest post from freelance food journalist Hugh Thomas. He’s contributed to Foodism, Time Out, Great British Chefs, and is part of British Street Food’s small team of vigilant writers. Find him on twitter @hughwrites.