To be honest, I really didn’t associate The National Gallery as a gastronomic destination until our visit to the National Café. Adjacent to the museum, it is a newly opened café catering mainly to the daily visitors and tourists to the Strand. However, in the evenings, it transforms into an elegant restaurant that serves beautiful food in eloquent and artful surroundings.
The tastefully decorated interiors, designed by Parisian Design Agency RF Studio, is all modern and trendy with soft pastel palettes. Designer Ramy Fischler has used blush pink leather chairs and mint green banquettes to add colour and contrast to the grey carpets and pale white walls. The result is part chic, part clinical. The sleek, ultra thin pendant lights are a scene stealer. It is nice to see interiors set within an old building gently evolve into a modish space without clashing or compromising.
Thankfully, there are none of the ubiquitous small plates here. The menu is small and carefully considered, split into the more conventional starters and mains. In a city deluged with restaurants offering sharing plates, this almost feels refreshingly retro!
Mr. K ordered the Burrata with Fennel, Radicchio and Wild Garlic Pesto (£10) for his starter. It was a lovely, creamy, perfect sphere of cheese served alongside a fresh, crunchy and sharp salad and a green, grassy oil. I am having a love affair with fennel at the moment and quite pleased that London restaurants are using them regularly for salads and coleslaw.
My heart was set on the Devonshire Crab Ravioli with Shrimp Butter and Cockles (£12) pretty much from the time I spotted it on the menu. This combination is food heaven for me. The pasta was well-cooked, served in a warm and creamy broth with a slight hint of lemon and bedecked with fresh green herbs.
The mains were well-presented and smelled heavenly. My Spaghetti Vongole (£16) had the perfect amount of seafood and garlic flavours. This dish reminded me very much of my holiday on the Amalfi coast last year. As far as seafood pasta goes, it was definitely a winner.
Mr. K had the Cornish Brill with Norfolk Asparagus, Jersey Royals and Sauce vierge (£20). It was a sophisticated and accomplished plate of food.
We also ordered some sprouting broccoli, peas and broad beans for sides (£5).
Dessert was Salted Caramel and Cinnamon Doughnuts, served with a toffee sauce. It was quite sweet and sticky, perhaps a bit too sweet for my tastebuds and the presentation could have been better.
The evening was not without its low points. For a Saturday, the atmosphere was a bit quiet and slightly lacking in soul. Service was a bit half-hearted and tired, as if they couldn’t wait to get home. There was a distinctive lack of attention to detail – some of my clams were not washed well enough and had a bit of grit on them, while Mr. K found a bone in his Brill. Crumbs left on the table from the starter course were not cleared all evening.
Overall, I left feeling a bit underwhelmed. The National Café has all the ingredients to become a great restaurant, serving top quality, exemplary dishes. Unfortunately, it is slightly let down by its lacklustre service and lack of atmosphere.
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N.B. All photographs used and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own. I review anonymously and pay for my food. The total cost of this meal was discounted as it was part of a Hot Dinners Promotion.