places to eat in museum and galleries

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Once no more than institutional canteens with cardboard sandwiches and stewed tea, museum and art gallery cafés have come of age. In some of these places the dining room is as much of a destination as the exhibition – and in a few cases, even more so. These are the places to feed the appetite as well as the thrist for knowledge

  • Museum and art gallery cafés

    National Dining Rooms at the National Gallery © Michael Franke


  • Museums and art gallery cafés and restaurants are still mainly daytime affairs, but there are a few notable restaurants here which remain open in the evening. The best of these include the Saatchi Gallery’s Gallery Mess, the Blueprint Café,  the National Gallery (early Friday evenings only), the Wallace Collection (Fri, Sat only), and the V&A (Fri only).

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    Central

    • Photo for National Dining Rooms, National Gallery

      National Dining Rooms, National Gallery

      Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN

      When Oliver Peyton opened the smart and somewhat sober-looking National Dining Rooms in the National’s Sainsbury Wing in 2006, it created a sensation, serving British food of a quality you’d no right to expect from museum caterers. Serious restaurant prices are charged in the smart dining room, but the Friday evening three-course set is superb value, if you don’t mind eating early. The attached café serves excellent cheeses and Peyton & Byrne cakes, but is tucked away from the windows that look out on Trafalgar Square from the restaurant proper. Read more

  • National Café, National Gallery

    East Wing, National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN

    In the East Wing, the late-opening National Café bar-brasserie is handsome in red and black (David Collins did the interior design) – and surprisingly quiet most evenings. Read more

  • Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain

    Tate Britain, Millbank, Pimlico, SW1P 4RG

    While the Tate Britain Café is run-of-the-mill, self-service cakes and shrink-wrap sarnies, the Rex Whistler restaurant is a notch above the norm. This is partly thanks to the enchanting 1927 mural ‘The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats’ (by Mr Whistler, then 23 years old), and partly due to sommelier Hamish Anderson’s broad and clearly laid-out wine list. The food is simple and direct: expect classic mains such as pork cutlet with black pudding and a Bramley and cider sauce or an afternoon snack of devilled kidneys on sourdough. Supporting pillars make the room a little awkward, but the warmth of the service makes up for it. Read more

  • The Wallace

    Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square, Marylebone, W1U 3BN

    It isn’t cheap and the French schtick can feel a little laboured, but Oliver Peyton’s Wallace comports itself with dignity, set beautifully in a white, glass-roofed interior courtyard. With a starter portion of foie gras terrine with blackberries, apple jelly and spiced gingerbread costing £11, and a lemon sole main with girolles and clams nearly £20, avail yourself of breakfast or afternoon tea, which offer cheaper options. The drinks menu is impressive: French wines and cider, Frenchified cocktails, Belgian beer and an appealing range of juices and fruit coolers. Read more

  • British Library

    96 Euston Rd, London, NW1 2DB

    Contract caterer Peyton & Byrne’s policy of shooing non-diners from seats at their first-floor restaurant gets a frosty reaction from our readers, but there are few complaints about the superior canteen lunches, superb cakes and the coffees. Those hoping to unwind with a book are better off at the café on the upper ground floor. Read more

  • British Museum

    44 Great Russell St, London, WC1B 3DG

    On an upper level in the glass-domed main hall is the poshest option, called the Court Restaurant, which serves mushroom ravioli, beef fillet and sesame salmon steak on white linen with dapper service; most main courses are in the £15-£20 range.

    Down at ground level are the shared benches, lacklustre coffees and cakes, and plastic-wrapped sandwiches of the Court Café. The Gallery Café, to the left of the main entrance and right through the shop, serves baked potatoes, pizza slices and curry and rice combos. You’d expect more from London’s number one tourist attraction, but instead you get very institutional catering. We suggest you vote with your feet and head to some of the many alternatives on the British Museum’s doorstep. Read more

  • Foundling Museum

    40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ

    An antique tavern clock counts the hours and classical music hangs in the air at the bright, spacious Coram Café. Very appropriate it is too: Handel was a governor when the Foundling Hospital was founded by Thomas Coram in 1739, as the museum painstakingly explains. The café is a peaceful place to lunch thanks to its relatively reclusive location, and the menu features innovative sandwiches, pies and salads. There’s also a good range of cakes and a popular cream tea. Read more

Museums and art gallery cafés and restaurants are still mainly daytime affairs, but there are a few notable restaurants here which remain open in the evening. The best of these include the Saatchi Gallery’s Gallery Mess, the Blueprint Café,  the National Gallery (early Friday evenings only), the Wallace Collection (Fri, Sat only), and the V&A (Fri only). Central | North | South | East | West

Users say

1 comments
Michelle Petrie
Michelle Petrie

Review of the Gallery Cafe at London's British Museum. Depressing place with depressing, bland food. The 'decor' reminds one of a run down d age home it school cafeteria. The chocolate chip cookie was tasteless and my daughter couldn't finish her sandwich. Will not be returning - rather use the food trucks stationed outside.