Oliver Peyton used to be the most innovative restaurateur in London, launching a string of brave and cult restaurants through the ’90s and noughties – the fabulous Atlantic Bar & Grill, Coast and Isola, among many others.
These were all slightly too far ahead of the curve, and subsequently closed. In recent years, Peyton’s new catering operations have been less ambitious, and largely restricted to art galleries.
The Restaurant at the Royal Academy, run by his Peyton & Byrne catering company, is a natural extension of places such as the National Dining Rooms (in the National Gallery). The setting, with high, vaulted ceilings, frescoes and pillars, is marvellous despite the car-boot-sale lighting installed by designer Tom Dixon.
The menu’s proudly British, seasonal, and far more avant garde than it needs to be, judging by the conservative-looking Mayfair-on-Friday diners on our visit.
Starters included a tangle of shaved fennel and celeriac, served over a poached egg with a citruous dressing; for us the flavours didn’t quite gel. A starter of pumpkin soufflé was granular and dense, more like a muffin in texture, served with a drizzle of blue cheese sauce.
A tiny breaded chop of venison was served with a gamily pungent venison sausage and some sugar-lump-sized gnocchi for £19. Even a smallish plate pecorino-filled ravioli cost £13.50, although it came with generous shavings of fresh black truffle on top.
A pudding entitled ’strudel reinterpration’ had been ‘reinterpreted’ as too-firm apple cubes, a tiny scoop of ice-cream and a strip of flaky pastry for £6.50. Artistic, perhaps, but not very satisfying to eat.
If the dishes cost two-thirds of the price charged, this could be a contender. But –and not for the first time – Peyton’s place is trying a little too hard, then expecting customers to pay over the odds for experiments that don’t always suceed. In contrast, the busy Peyton & Byrne café right next door is affordable, and quite good.