Considering that it is the national dish of old England, really good roast beef - unctuously flavoursome and not the dry, tasteless flesh served in far too many places - is surprisingly hard to find. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that by far the best piece of beef I have had in a long while should be in that temple of fine art, Tate Britain. It would seem that Tate Britain, to paraphrase the V&A's old catchphrase, is also an ace restaurant with quite a good art gallery attached.
The restaurant is open only for lunch. We went on a Sunday before going on to the recent Degas, Sickert, Toulouse-Lautrec show. Happily, Sunday lunch is when they serve this paragon among roast cows, complete with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings.
The menu also offered Swaffham pheasant stew, roast salmon, sea bass, and saddle of lamb with pruneaux d'Agen. I had a warming starter of toasted oat and barley velouté with herb dumplings, while my wife began with a leek-and-chanterelle tart. Puddings included winter-berry pavlova, fig-and-orange steamed pudding, cranberry and chestnut parfait, and (I fell for this) chocolate and satsuma tart.
However, if the Tate Britain restaurant is famous for anything, it is for its wine cellar. Over 60 wines come in half-bottles (the wine is purchased before it is bottled, so the buyer can specify), perfect for the solo art lover, or those who don't want their aesthetic judgement clouded. We went for a half of Saint-Véran-Les Chailloux 2002. Full bottles of white start at £15 for a Domaine de San de Guilhem 2004. Reds go from a £15 Feitoria Tinto to a £79 Bordeaux from Château Cos d'Estournel.
As you are seated in the Tate's basement, the view is somewhat limited. But running right round the room is a splendid mural by Rex Whistler, suitably entitled The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats. It was completed in 1927 when Whistler was just 23.
Starters are £6.75, mains £14.50, with side salad or vegetables at £2.25. Puddings are £5.50, and our bill for two including wine and coffee came to £85.
Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1 (020-7887 8825)