Monday, September 11, 2006

Eating Art in London

If hunger strikes in central London, my advice these days is to head for a museum. It is remarkable how many art venues have opened serious alternatives to the “soggy sandwich” cafeteria and for visitors, it is wonderfully convenient to consume great art and good food all under one roof.

Last week, the doppelganger and I rushed over to the stately Wallace Collection on Manchester Square to be one of the first to try out Oliver Peyton’s newest addition to the eat/art club. Not that the CafĂ© Bagatelle, the previous offering at the Wallace, had been inferior. Run by the same folks who own the Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, Bagatelle was pretty good. But Peyton seems to be launching a one-man take-over of London museum restaurants and after our good experience at the National Dining Rooms, we were eager to see what he was up to at the Wallace.

The restaurant describes itself as “the modern answer to a typical French brassiere” which is really PR speak for the fact that they have tweaked the traditional formula. To begin with, the place doesn’t look or feel like a brassiere but the location in the central courtyard with lots of foliage and a beautiful glass ceiling make it a very pleasant venue and the colder, wetter and darker London becomes this winter, the more pleasant the Wallace will seem. The menu pays homage to some brassiere classics such as steak tartare, bouillabaisse and fruit de mer. Just back from Spain, I was tempted by the cod with beans and ham and the doppelganger had the bouillabaisse. Both dishes were good, neither were exceptional. The service was keen if not yet very efficient. We spent £45 for two. In addition to lunch, the Wallace serves breakfast from 10 to 12 and afternoon tea as well as dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.

Maybe I’ve overdosed on Oliver Peyton’s cultural formula but my “take-way” from my Wallace Collection lunch was “been there, done that”. Everything was well prepared and executed but hardly new and not exciting. Still, the Wallace is a nice place to take your mother-in-law and despite being formulaic, I really appreciate the fact that London museums are filled with good restaurants. I’m particularly eager to try the Afternoon Tea at the Wallace which could be a breath of fresh air after the stuffy and increasingly commercial experiences at the grand hotels. With an exciting looking new show featuring drawings from Versailles about to open in October, in the immortal words of The Terminator, “I’ll be back”.

The Wallace Collection
Hertford House
Manchester Square
London W1U 3BN
Tel: 020 7563 9500

Photo of Hertford House taken from Wallace Collection website

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