Saturday 12 February 2011
Dylan Jones: 'The best meal you’ll eat this week will be in a museum'
The best meal you'll eat this week won't be in a bistro, a brasserie or a grill room, it will be in a museum. The Restaurant at the Royal Academy finally opened last month, and it's a hit. It was opened by Oliver Peyton, who also looks after the restaurants in the National Gallery, the Wallace Collection and Kew Gardens, as well as running Inn the Park (in St James's Park) and the Peyton and Byrne bakery.
I went for lunch a few days ago and had the best dish I've eaten this year: soft polenta, fondue and girolles. It tasted like God's own porridge. I loved it, and everything else I ate. The menu is not the sort of thing we are used to being offered in museum or art gallery restaurants, and Oliver has been criticised for this. But what he's trying to do is elevate the standard of cooking in places that normally don't pay much attention to it.
The interior is also rather special, designed by Tom Dixon, and – with its low-hanging globes, wood panelling, glass cabinets and velvet upholstery – looks like a cross between a modern Viennese tea room and a study belonging to a Victorian surgeon. Visit most gallery restaurants that have been "done up" (or done over) and you'll find stark white boxes with Arthur C Clarke-style cutlery, framed prints from Habitat and "modern English" adaptations of classic café food. The Restaurant is nothing like this, and is all the better for it.
I've known Oliver for quite some time – in fact I first met him 25 years ago, when we both used to go to nightclubs and misbehave – and have been a willing participant in and observer of every one of his epicurean adventures. I remember him taking me around the Atlantic Bar & Grill a few months before it opened, walking me through what was then a dirty, smelly basement full of builders and mice. I distinctly remember thinking, "This is never going to work!". Of course, it turned out to be not just a roaring success, but also one of the defining restaurants of the Nineties.
I hope my enthusiasm for The Restaurant doesn't end up having the opposite effect.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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