London is one of the most cultural cities in the world. Its galleries and museums provide a cultural feast for Londoners and tourists alike. However, if you dare venture in to any of the restaurants in these establishments you are unlikely to see Lucian Freud or Tracey Emin in residence. That is because the only people who inhabit these canteen style set ups are retired art historian teachers who have spent a lifetime eating school dinners or the cool kids from the school trip who have sloped off from the guided tour to hang out.
There is not one restaurant in a London gallery or museum that I would happily go for a bite to eat in. Oliver Peyton is the dominant force in catering for the cultured but has failed in creating what could be some of the best dining rooms in the capital. Take Danny Meyer’s The Modern, located in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Meyer has created one of the finest high-end dining experiences in New York with views of the Rockefelller Sculpture Garden but the difference here is that people go to eat at The Modern even if they are not going to MOMA. He has created a destination restaurant within a museum. London needs someone to do a Danny Meyer. Instead we get Tom Aikens at Somerset House screwing tourists with overpriced mediocre gastropub fare just so they can sit in the sun at ‘Tom’s Terrace’.
Instead, check out these four London restaurants when visiting some of the cultural hot spots that have some interesting art of their own and the food ain’t too bad either.
Victoria and Albert Museum – Cassis www.cassisbistro.co.uk
It has taken me a few visits to come to realise that Cassis ain’t half bad. Their vodka martini is worth the trip up the Old Brompton Road alone. Situated across from the V&A, this high-end all day brasserie ticks all the boxes for the local clientele. As well as collecting restaurants, Mr Abela is a serious wine and art collector. He has a fantastic collection of Julian Opie originals that hang proudly both in Morton’s and Cassis. Opie is probably most famous for designing the cover of Blur’s album, The Best Of.
This iconic fish restaurant that is now part of Richard Caring’s empire is in the heart of Theatreland and has always attracted the rich and famous both from on and off stage. The oyster bar opened in 2008 and I am sure Josef Sheekey, the Shepherds Market stall-holder who in 1893 was allowed by Lord Salisbury to sell fish and shellfish on his new manor of St Martin’s Court, would approve of the art in the bar. The room is adorned with black and white photos by Alison Jackson of thespians including such legends as Laurence Olivier and John Hurt as well as some of today’s well known faces such as Orlando Bloom and Rosamund Pike.
The British Museum – L’Escargot www.lescargotrestaurant.co.uk
After a morning at the British Museum take a short cab ride back in to Soho for lunch at L’Escargot in Greek Street to this Michelin starred restaurant steeped in history and to see one of the finest private collections of paintings on display in a restaurant. L’Escargot was once ‘the’ celebrity dining room in the 1980’s when it was owned by Jancis Robinson and her husband Nick Lander. It is now owned by Jimmy Lahoud who completely refurbished the restaurant in 1998 and now houses his collection of signed lithographs, bronzes and ceramics. The ground floor has works by Miro, Chagall, Warhol, Hockney, Leger and Matisse. The first floor displays a remarkable selection of Picasso sketches and ceramics.
Royal Academy of Arts – The Wolseley www.thewolseley.com
You are correct. There is no artwork in The Wolseley although I do think their patisserie display is a piece of art in itself. The reason I have included this Piccadilly restaurant is firstly because it is in flicking distance of paint off an artist’s brush from the Royal Academy of Arts and you are guaranteed to see one of the worlds greatest living artists, Lucian Freud. If you go for early dinner on a week day the great portrait artist will be in there at his favourite table propped up with a special black Wolseley pillow just for him. If on some rare occasion he is not in residence, I am sure Jeremy King will show you a picture of his portrait by Lucian.