London Slant: Lunch in the most amusing room in Europe

Have you savoured our city’s culinary speciality—London Particular Soup? I confess that until recently I hadn’t, but that’s now been rectified thanks to an unlikely intermediary, the glamorous new staircase at Tate Britain.

Tate Britain new staircase

View from the Tate Members’ Room: staircase leading to the Rex Whistler Restaurant.

Much has been written about this grand spiral of steps inserted at Tate Britain’s original entrance more than a century after the gallery opened. All agree it’s a sensation—daring, dazzling yet looking as though it’s been there forever.

Tate Staircase

Swirling steps designed by architects Caruso St John.

But what’s its purpose? Such a flight of fancy is surely only there to lead into an equally impressive space. And so it was that I swept down the scalloped marble steps and into the newly refurbished Rex Whistler Restaurant.

Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain

The Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain.

Suddenly I was plunged into the rural idyll depicted on the mural by artist Rex Whistler that covers all the walls. Castles, caves and craggy mountains alternate with formal gardens and river valleys. As my eyes grew accustomed to the scene I noted the hunters that inspired its title: The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats (or, as we might say now, out foraging for food). The gusto with which this royal party are tracking down their dinner helped inspire the description that greeted the restaurant’s opening in 1927 as “the most amusing room in Europe”.

Today, it’s not just the painting that’s packed with entertainment value: the London-inspired menu and English wine list are an adventure, too. Of course, we had to try the London Particular Soup, named after the pea souper fogs that were a regular feature of the city when Whistler took up his brush. But there was also an artichoke, walnut and caper salad. Who knew that Camberwell was once famous for its artichokes (just like Epping for its butter)?

But what to choose for the main course? Should it be traditional sirloin of Scottish beef or Dingley Dell pork? (The puffy, golden Yorkshire puds easily swung that one.)  Or how about the tangy beetroot and pearl barley vegetarian option? This took some lengthy, but delicious chewing that left me with no room for Sussex Pond pudding—suet pastry with lemon sauce inside.

Well, perhaps I should admit that earlier on another staircase had led me astray. This more modest set of steps takes Tate members spiralling up into the heavenly heights of the rotunda. There, in front of a mirrored counter designed to evoke Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, is an incredible display of pastries and cakes. I’m afraid I had already exhausted my day’s dessert quota in these ethereal surroundings, with great views down to the hall below.

So how does the new rehang of Tate Britain match up to its eateries? I’m happy to report that it more than rises to the occasion. Now that “themes” have been replaced by “chronology”, it is back to an exciting journey through the story of art in Britain, from Queen Elizabeth I in her finery to an empty room with Martin’s Creed’s Work No. 227—the lights going on and off.

The Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain. Lunch from £21 for two courses and £27 for three.

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “London Slant: Lunch in the most amusing room in Europe

  1. Mandy

    I haven’t been to the Tate Britain yet but two things about your post have convinced me to do so – the beautiful stair case and the rehanging. Chronology definitely speaks more to my ordered mind than themes!

    Reply
  2. Wanderlust23

    I can’t believe it took me so long to visit Tate Britain as I’m relatively close to it. I went a few weekends ago and marveled at these stairs and the diversity in art there. I had soup however and didn’t like it, not flavorful enough.

    Reply
  3. Fran

    I love the new rehang – haven’t tried the restaurant yet, and I’m a bit ambivalent about the new members room – the old one was lovely and cosy while the new one is very grand.

    Reply
    1. londonslant Post author

      Yes the rehang is like getting a new gallery. I take your point about the members’ room. The previous one was indeed very relaxing after viewing the art – but I do like the cake display and the views of the staircase in this one. Pity there can’t be both!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s