Restaurants: Where shall we meet in The Tate Gallery?

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The Independent Culture
I was once talking to a rather oversexed American PhD student called, of all things, Herb. How did he like England, I asked. "Awful," he replied. "How so?" "The women," he said, "they're so unfriendly." "Are they? In what way?" "Well, in the States all you have to do to pick up a chick," he said, "is go to a bookshop. You can score in 20 minutes in bookshops in New York. I spent the whole morning in Hatchards the other day, and I didn't get laid once."

Thank God he didn't try the galleries. The American habit of hitting on people in art galleries has never really caught on over here so much, long may it last; there's nothing more irritating than having to swat an annoying suitor while you're admiring the charms of Lady Hamilton dressed as Circe. If, however, you do pick someone up in a gallery, at least these days there's usually somewhere to go and get a meal or a coffee without feeling like you're in the school canteen.

And you get the most interesting groups of people. The restaurant at the Tate, partly because of the singular lack of local facilities and partly because its deliciously overblown muralled landscapes are so conducive to hearty eating, is always bustling with a wonderfully eclectic mix of local business folk (whom you can tell by the bottles that strew their tables) and arty types drinking mineral water and stuffing their faces.

And it's not bad food, either, though it's usually so busy that you have no chance at all of cramming in lunch in an hour. But then again, you won't want to. After a hard morning sneering at the Pollocks, there is little more comforting experience than to eat a very fine plate of just the right sized delicate serving of liver-and-bacon with mash and follow it with a slice of Christmas pudding (a pud so good they oughtn't to reserve it for the December menu). Next to us, two elegant women swapped heady words like "signing tour" and "royalties". On the other side, a grey- haired women in country tweeds gazed mournfully at a younger woman with enough body piercings to sink the Belgrano. "I just don't understand," she said, "why you had to shave your head. You had such nice hair." "Shaddap, Mum," she replied. "Want to split some scallops as a starter?"

The Restaurant, Tate Gallery, Millbank, SW1 (0171-887 8877)

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