While visiting your favorite museum or gallery can be the perfect day, fueling your brain with culture, interesting facts and art, it can also be a grueling job, leaving you a little hungry, to say the least.
But the museum’s humble canteen, once a savior who offered gallery owners a simple sandwich to munch on before or after the exhibition, is now outnumbered.
Unsurprisingly, when looking for the next location to expand into, chefs are opting for cultural spaces, with those visiting a museum or gallery for the day being able to refuel with a real sit-down meal.
It’s not like museum cafes have ever been economically efficient, with even a weak cup of tea and a piece of cake bringing you back close to the cost of your actual admission ticket.
So, if you’re planning on spending this kind of money on something you could pick up from the local supermarket, you might as well shell out a little more for a meal served by a celebrity chef or at a new branch of your favorite restaurant.
While London’s museums may have extensive restaurants on their doorstep, a restaurant within the same building you just visited is sure to calm you down, especially if you’ve been out and about with kids. Outside the capital, the convenience of the location is just as important, if not more so, when deciding where to eat after an exhibition.
Fans of East London’s Rochelle Canteen were saddened by the closure of the restaurant branch at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). Margot Henderson’s famed restaurant enjoyed three years of catering to exhibit goers and allowed them to swap a cheese sandwich with crispy pork cheek or zucchini and spiced lentils (among other famous dishes).
Whether you’re looking for a quick snack or a longer dinner to round off a pretty leisurely day, we’ve rounded up the best restaurants from museums and galleries across the UK.
The best restaurants in museums and galleries for 2022
José Pizarro at the Royal Academy in London
José’s first restaurant in central London occupied the beautiful Senate Room, located on the first floor of the Burlington Gardens museum. With a variety of set menus to choose from, both art and food lovers can savor classic dishes such as seasonal vegetable paella, pickled white anchovies, slow cooked chorizo with red wine and cod in traditional Catalan sauce.
Royal Academy of Arts, 6 Burlington Gardens, London, W1S 3ET; 020 7300 5912; josepizarro.com
Mathilde’s Cafe at Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere
Nestled in the Lake District, Mathilde’s Cafe at Heaton Cooper Studio offers a menu of Scandinavian-inspired dishes that will feed your soul as much as the art. As a tribute to Cooper’s Norwegian wife, Mathilde, visitors can sample Krakauer hot dogs with blackberry ketchup or fries with goat cheese. There is also a selection of smørrebrød (open sandwiches signed by Denmark, Sweden and Norway) on the menu with zucchini, asparagus and ricotta; historic tomatoes and capers; smoked hock and pickled kohlrabi and gravlax salmon with horseradish.
Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere, Ambleside LA22 9SX; 015394 35280; heatoncooper.it
Townsend at the Whitechapel Gallery in London
Nick Gilkinson’s modern British dining room is the place to go if you are looking for innovative and seasonal dishes after a visit to the gallery in East London. With food from head chef Chris Shaw (formerly Petersham Nurseries and BAO), guests can enjoy a daily changing menu focusing on local British produce and an extensive wine list to top off the visit. Favorites on the menu include fried guinea fowl with honey and Leicester red croquettes.
77-82 Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX; 020 7522 7896; townendrestaurant.co.uk
Barletta at Turner Contemporary, Margate, Kent
While Margate is full of up and coming restaurants, we still recommend that you try Barletta after visiting Turner Contemporary. Coolea truffle and cheese gougère are ridiculously tastier, while confit lamb with pickled radishes and anchovies and potatoes, celeriac and Ogleshield gratins are also great choices. Drinks can also be enjoyed on the roof.
Turner Contemporary, Margate CT9 1HG; 07928 651439; barletta.it
Garden Café at the Garden Museum in London
A hidden gem in South London, the Garden Café boasts a daily changing menu featuring gorgeous dishes from chefs Harry Kaufman and George Ryle, including mackerel with watercress and horseradish and pinto beans with rainbow chard and sheep’s milk ricotta. You can finish your meal with an apricot and hazelnut cake with crème fraîche or a classic cheese plate.
The Garden Museum, 5 Lambeth Palace Rd, London SE1 7LB; 020 3640 9322; gardenmuseum.org.uk
The bistro at the Black Watch Castle and Museum, Perth, Scotland
Once you are done immersing yourself in the history of the Black Watch, it is time to indulge in a good meal in the bistro of the castle museum. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner during the summer months, there’s plenty to savor after a long day of study. The award-winning bistro offers both indoor and outdoor dining, with its seasonal menus offering dishes like haggis, neeps and tatties, Scottish smoked salmon risotto, and chicken and chorizo linguine. Perhaps it is worth planning a visit to the museum alone to feast on these.
Hay Street The Black Watch Castle & Museum, Perth PH1 5HR; 01738 638152; theblackwatch.co.uk
Ocra at the National Gallery in London
While there are impressive views of Trafalgar Square from the entire dining room, the food at the Ocher is noteworthy too. With small dishes like Saddleback pork and Westcombe cheddar croquettes and beet and macadamia “ricotta”, followed by a fried hake sandwich or saffron fettucine, this restaurant excels across the board.
National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN; 020 7747 2525; ocher.londra
The Mess at Messums, Tisbury, Wiltshire
When you visit this gallery and art center in Wiltshire, there’s more than one soggy sandwich waiting for you at the end. In addition to freshly baked cakes and croissants, dishes such as beef empanadas and zucchini ceviche are also on the menu. Slow-cooked Wiltshire lamb also makes an appearance, accompanied by curried cauliflower salad and red cabbage and fennel slaw.
Place Farm, Court St, Tisbury, Salisbury SP3 6LW; 01747 445042; messumswiltshire.com
The Garden Cafe at Hospitalfield House, Scotland
Hopitalfield’s new Garden Café is the latest addition to the east of Scotland’s thriving culinary scene. The newly opened café offers guests a simple yet delicious menu in seasonal evolution, with dishes such as roasted buckwheat, brown lentils, cabbage and lemon broth; Angus beef koftas, jeweled rice salad with cumin seed focaccia; and beetroot pie, black beans and feta. Head chef Simon Brown uses locally produced meats and smoked fish and artisan bread in his recipes, and the coffee is roasted locally in Arbroath.
Hospitalfield House, Arbroath, Angus, Scotland, DD11 2NH; 01241 656124; hospitalfield.org.uk
Tavern at the Barbican Center, London
When dining at the Osteria, take a seat at a table overlooking the Barbican Center and enjoy an Italian feast. Start with a creamy burrata and seared scallops before moving on to steaming bowls of pasta, with stir-fried gnocchi and braised rabbit ragout on the menu. If you are really hungry, follow it with monkfish tail with crispy bacon or a pork cutlet with eggplant and miso puree, before concluding with the delicious tiramisu of the Osteria.
Barbican Center, Silk St, Barbican, London EC2Y 8DS; 020 7588 3008; osterialondon.co.uk
Roth Bar & Grill at Hauser & Wirth, Bruton, Somerset
In a slightly different location from most galleries and their restaurants, the Roth Bar and Grill is set in a converted barn on this working farm in Bruton. With a menu that supports local produce, all fresh meat and vegetables are sourced from the company and its garden, with Aberdeen Angus beef cured for up to 60 days in the company’s salt room, as well as lamb Lleyn and Oxford Sandy and black pig. Add charred hipsi kale with miso as a side.
Hauser & Wirth, Durslade Farm, drop lane, Bruton BA10 0NL; 01749 814700; rothbarandgrill.co.uk
The Scottish Cafe and Restaurant at the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland
With a menu that supports independent Scottish suppliers, culture seekers can enjoy steaming bowls of cullen skink (a soup of smoked haddock, leeks, potatoes and cream) and even a Sunday roast if visiting on the weekend. Do not miss the characteristic Aberdeen “butters” (especially the ham, cheese and chilli), prepared for the restaurant by the pastry shop Au Gourmand.
The Scottish National Gallery, The Mound, Edinburgh EH2 2EL; 0131 225 1550; contini.com
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