★★★★ | The National Cafe, London
Tucked inside the National Gallery is the National Cafe which is serving amazing food at realistic prices in a very very central location.
Peyton & Byrne’s venture is a definite winner. The food is what you’d expect from a restaurant company that also runs The Wallace Restaurant and The Keepers House in the Royal Academy of Arts. The menu runs the gamut from British and modern European dishes – It’s food that is stunning, original and healthy.
The National cafe now has a new all-day brunch menu that’s affordable and delicious. Available every day from 9.30am right through to 5.00pm, the menu is perfect whether you are checking out the gallery or just passing by the building, it offers something for everyone, from vegan food to something a bit sweeter if this is what you fancy. Toasted almond pancake with berries and maple syrup or Avocado on sourdough toast with organic feta, chilli and tomato are what you’d typically find on brunch menus, however, go for something different and sumptuous and you will be pleasantly surprised.
I can’t rave enough about the Summer Courgette Fritter, grilled halloumi, fresh basil and orange dressing. It was stunning, radically different and absolutely delicious. Meat-free, it’s a dish that bursts with flavours and is very colourful. It’s topped with bits of carrots, celery, onion, and littered with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and the orange dressing gives it the zing that is so unique. And it’s a dish that could hold you over for the rest of the day – it’s that filling. I highly recommend it. Also radically different is The National Reuben Sandwich: salt beef, cheddar, gherkins, sauerkraut, Russian dressing on Rye. While on the small side and not as filling as the Fritter, the ingredients are all nice and compacted in between the bun. At £11.50 it’s not cheap but where else can you find a dish like this on a London menu?
In addition to the brunch menu, there is also lunch and dinner menu – served from 12:00 to 2:00 – that, while a bit limited, also includes dishes that are very good. Among the items on the menu include a beautifully tasty Cold Tomato Soup – their version of Gazpacho. It was one of the best I’ve ever had (£6.50). Also, the Burrata, Isle of Wight tomatoes, basil and extra virgin olive oil was of good quality but a bit on the pricey side (£9.50). Items on the menu include Chicken Kiev (£14.50), Ribeye Steak (£15.50), and Chicken and Avocado Salad (£10.50/£15.50). Sides to go with the mains include Chips, Broccoli, and Polenta Chips – all at £4.00.
If you still have room for dessert (I didn’t), definitely try the Jaffa Cake (dark chocolate cake) – a circular dessert topped with powdered sugar and coconut and comes with orange sauce.
The National Cafe offers up a very popular Afternoon Tea, which at £22.50 per person (£31.50 with Champagne) includes the usual sandwiches, scones and cakes, and of course tea.
The interior of the cafe is not much. Dull grey walls don’t provide much burst of colour to the room, while the carpeting is the same. And many people use the door of the cafe (facing Charing Cross) as a passageway into the museum, so expect lots of people traffic to flow by, bypassing the bar on the right and the dining room on the left as they walk in. It’s also a bit unclear where to check-in when you arrive, the day we were there no one was there to greet us. But the staff, once you are seated, are top-notch. They cater to your needs and explain the dishes to you as they put them on your table.
The lovely manager explained to us that the menu changes along with the exhibition, so come September there will be a new menu. But in spite of the actual look and feel of the restaurant, the food is top-notch. It’s amazing quality at realistic prices, and it’s central location doesn’t hurt.
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.