Flash puts the 'temporary' into contemporary dining. But will anyone miss it when it disappears next year?
Flash, Royal Academy of Arts, 6 Burlington, Gardens, tel: 020 8880 6111.
Sunday 23 November 2008
The Flash restaurant may have only opened at the beginning of November but I guarantee it will be dead, gone and dust by January. It's not that I'm the Kiss of Death, it's just that it is a short-term, flash-in-the-pan, pop-up restaurant at the Royal Academy of Arts and it really will be gone by January. That leaves only one question: is it a shame it has so short a life or is it just as well? Or is that two questions?
Flash is the baby of Bistrotheque'sPablo Flack and David Waddington, the pair behind the kitschy Christmas-themed Reindeer restaurant set up in Brick Lane's Truman Brewery for a minute in 2006. It is an installation within an exhibition, designed as part of the new GSK Contemporary arts season at the Royal Academy. The entire restaurant – walls, doors, reception desk – has been built from 191 art storage crates by architect David Kohn. The crates in turn have been inlaid with water-jet-cut felt and computer-cut vinyl to create a kind of modern marquetry, while a two-metre black Swarovski crystal sputnik-chandelier designed by Giles Deacon hovers over proceedings.
According to Flack, it's all supposed to symbolise "heritage subverted by youth". What ho. I fear that it could be as obscure and self-conscious as the mainly video installations in the exhibition itself – the 3D holopods, Cartesian geometry, metaphoric propositions and multiplicity of dimensions all completely lost on this visitor at least, although I did like the three empty plinths surrounded by smashed pieces of statue. At least I think it was one of the exhibits.
Inside Flash, the art is more to my taste. Wedgwood dinner plates, illustrated by Will Broome, carry inscriptions of mumsy invocations ("If you don't eat your greens, you won't get your pudding", and "Elbow off the table") while large paintings of cockatoos reference the Burlington gardens of the original address.
There is already a collaborative buzz in the room among the arty types and archetypes in their black-framed glasses, Cleopatra headbands and statement ear-rings. Bistrotheque chef Tom Collins has put together a French/Californian menu that runs from haddock, sea bass and king prawn ceviche to roast quail with pecans, apple and maple syrup jus and pan-fried pollock with almond and caper quinoa. The prices feel a bit over-confident, given the temporary nature of the kitchen but, to be fair, I will make allowances and assume much has been prepped beforehand.
Even so, a very small truffled celeriac tart is a bit clunky and stodgy, especially for £9. "Celeriac mash on a McVitie," says my wife, who has difficulty coping with overly generous amounts of truffle oil. My ham hock and eel terrine with a cute watercress sauce and Melba toast is a better choice, but slim pickings for £8. I thought modern art prices were meant to be going through the floor, not the ceiling.
Main courses are drear. A dry fillet of pan-fried bass (£22) sits on a heave of crab and creamed leeks surrounded by rubbery pellets of herbed gnocchi. A Roquefort, pine nut and raisin ravioli with cauliflower purée and carrot reduction (£13) has a better chance of survival but clashes with itself, unable to unite as a whole. A Louis Changarnier Vin de Pays d'Oc Pinot Noir (£29.50) off the sparse but useable list is light and likeable. To finish, a lemon trifle (£7), served in a frosted glass tumbler, seems to be more cream than anything else.
Flash does a better job of the cocktails (excellent), the service (lovely), the room (smart), the statement (bold) and the crowd (lively) than the food (just ordinary), which makes it like a lot of other restaurants. But at least when this one closes, I don't have to feel guilty.
SCORES: 1-9 STAY HOME AND COOK 10-11 NEEDS HELP 12 OK 13 PLEASANT ENOUGH 14 GOOD 15 VERY GOOD 16 CAPABLE OF GREATNESS 17 SPECIAL, CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK 18 HIGHLY HONOURABLE 19 UNIQUE AND MEMORABLE 20 AS GOOD AS IT GETS
Flash, Royal Academy of Arts, 6 Burlington, Gardens, tel: 020 8880 6111. Lunch, tea daily; dinner Thu-Mon. Until January 19. Around £130 for dinner for two, including wine and service
The crunch brunch: Galleries with cool cafes
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
75 Belford Road, Edinburgh,tel: 0131 332 8600
With the emphasis on seasonal, organic and Fairtrade, you get a heaving café serving good, thick soups, salads and some of Edinburgh's best-loved cakes
Trafalgar Square, London WC1,tel: 020 7747 2525
Oliver Peyton and designer David Collins have put together a bustling café for the capital. From braised veal through healthy sandwiches to afternoon tea
Whitworth Art Gallery
University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, tel: 0161 275 7450
As well as organic juices, home-made cakes and a menu that runs from game terrine to mezes, this award-winning café also runs its own art exhibitions
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