The Restaurant at the Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1

The problem with the RA's new restaurant is the level of its ambition. Is it to be a scoff-and-refuel addition to a few hours of art consumption? Or a destination in its own right, a recommendable eaterie which happens to have an art gallery attached?

It's hard to imagine The Restaurant as a drop-by kinda place. That majestic arched gateway, opening on to the courtyard that dates back to the 1760s, the statue of Joshua Reynolds posing against the London sky, the grey stonework – it's a lot of obstacles to negotiate past, if you're just looking for a plate of calves' liver and bacon.

I welcome the new management, however, because I ate at the old RA restaurant last July, when I took my youngest, Clementine, to the Summer Exhibition and hauled her into the café for some reviving lunch. It was an awful experience. Located beside a lavatory, the entrance ramp smelt of battered cod, boiled mince, overcooked custard and other things that used to arrive in a reeking metal trolley when I was in primary school.

We served ourselves on RA plastic trays, adding dollops of cold pasta or tomato salad on to whatever passed as a main course, and paid at a separate cash till. My daughter and I ate it, but it was a dispiriting experience. This was one of the golden temples of western art, for heaven's sake, in the heart of the English metropolis, and the restaurant would have disgraced the works canteen in a Uttoxeter cardboard factory.

The man responsible for the place's new look is Oliver Peyton, the Irish makeover king who brought the Atlantic Bar and Grill to life in the 1990s, and who has transformed the kitchens at the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection. His company, Peyton and Byrne, has stripped out the RA's buffet, and made the room far more attractive. Original features, such as the wood panelling and the enormous murals, have been buffed and highlighted. Two dozen busts by Royal Academicians have been exhumed from the vaults and stuck inside black-framed vitrines. Polyhedronic wire lightshades lower the ceiling to manageable proportions, while the red-upholstered chairs and stone tables make you feel welcome, warm and cosy.

I was told that Peyton had barely two weeks to transform the place, which might account for the slenderness of the menu. The food seemed an afterthought to the decor. Cauliflower soup, pumpkin and Stilton soufflé, foie gras terrine – these are not starters to inspire great art. I can't imagine JMW Turner falling with rapture on the ravioli with pecorino and shaved truffle. I searched high and low for a beef extravaganza, a chicken concoction, a duck adventure. There weren't any. It's a hard thing for the professional glutton to say, but I searched in vain for anything that suggested a gastronomic good time.

A wild sea bass carpaccio with mandolined lime slices was brinily pleasant, mainly because the fish wasn't really carpaccio'd – the slices were quite plump and succulent. A duck egg and Parmesan salad came with fennel and celeriac in little bootlace strips, which were nicely crunchy and cleansing. The duck egg, perfectly boiled to keep the yolk runny, was covered in balsamic vinegar and surprisingly, teeth-freezingly cold, which didn't seem right for a salad. Main-course pig's cheek with pommes mousseline looked frightful – as if someone had dolloped two large spoonfuls of Branston pickle on to a bed of mash, ignorantly embedded with bits of broccoli and carrot. The piggy flesh (that's what the pickle turned out to be) had a dense, gelatinous tenderness which worked with the "mousseline" exactly like lamb shanks with mash. These were the most densely padded cheeks I've encountered since The Godfather.

Cornish flounder was flavoured by capers and a buttery sauce, but my date and I floundered to find any taste in the actual fish. We agreed that both main dishes were superior home cooking. We could imagine either being served in a friend's kitchen.

The desserts wouldn't make Gauguin punch a hole in his canvas. Milk chocolate mousse was bland nursery food, overseen by grown-up almond-orange tuile biscuits. A strudel "reinterpretation" offered a pastry wedge with icing sugar, that surmounted some delicious cinnamon ice cream and lumps of apple that had become overcaramelised. If they'd been left inside the pastry, as with a normal strudel, they'd have been more successful.

The RA restaurant looks lovely, the wine list is appealing and well-priced, and our Lithuanian waitress Karolina was completely charming. The cooking, though, has a pinched, defeatist, uncertain quality about it. The menu needs a re-think, the chef needs a trip to some decent meat and poultry suppliers, and Mr Peyton, invoking the spirit of his Sligo ancestors, should get some blood and guts into the kitchen. His restaurant is using too much pastel and watercolour. It needs some primary colours pronto.

The Restaurant at the Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1 (020-7300 5608)

Food 2 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 4 stars

About £100 for two, with wine

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Culture club

Dining at the Grange Park Opera

24 Broad St, Alresford, Hampshire (01962 737367)

Try the exquisite pot-roast guinea fowl at this country manor-cum-opera house in Hampshire.

Manchester Art Gallery Restaurant

Mosley Street, Manchester (0161 235 8888)

A new venture featuring locally sourced ingredients and comforting home cooking.

Almeida Restaurant

30 Almeida St, London N1 (020-7354 4777)

Modern French food in an airy space opposite the Almeida theatre – try the steamed sea trout, cockles and smoked bacon chowder.

News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-Qualified Accountant) - Manchester

    £23000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat