Peyton and Byrne
Peyton and Byrne restaurants in London have become ubiquitous for hungry culture vultures, whether you’re dropping into the Wallace Collection for a lunchtime quiche beneath the glass atrium roof of the sculpture garden, breaking up your afternoon stroll through St James’ Park with a lakeside bite inside the wooden-curved tranquility of Inn the Park, or having an intellectual breakfast at the British Library, in one of the Peyton and Byrne pastel-coloured bakeries. Even better, if you’re a fully paid-up hedonist with an afternoon to kill, you can spend your Saturday afternoon flitting from one to another. Following a jaunt around the Photographic Portrait Prize at The National Portrait Gallery, we refreshed ourselves with afternoon tea in the third-floor restaurant. The view was stunning even on a dull winter’s day, with the vista painted in a palette of greys that took in Nelson’s Column and Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Next step was St James’ Park and a cuppa at Inn the Park, but the main event was still to come: come the evening, we stole up to the locked doors of the Royal Academy of Art, were surreptitiously admitted by the security guard and directed down the stairs to its newly opened restaurant; the latest addition to the Peyton and Byrne family. As you might expect from a chic restaurant located in the basement of this historical home of British art (founded in 1768 by George III), the décor in this crypt-like space was fabulous: golden, geometric light fittings hung from the ceiling, frescoes adorned the walls, and a bar counter made from Mount Etna lava stone ran one length of the room. The staff was delightful; special mention must got to Spanish waiter Juan, a moustachioed Inspector Clueso lookalike who often seemed about to pull up a chair and hold forth on his views of the menu and the fads and foibles of the modern art world. The food was unfussy, tasty and beautifully presented. Our langoustines were big and meaty, dressed with a single estate olive oil so delicious that every last drop had to be mopped up with bread (and even fingers). The cauliflower soup may have been a tad under-seasoned but it was well complimented by its salty scallops, a miniature work of art in itself with a velvety white base providing the perfect canvas for the electric-green basil oil, squares of bright purple beetroot and discs of woody parsnip crisps. This hedonist’s personal highlight was the cod confit with Chinese-style red cabbage parcels (not quite the dumplings described on the menu), parcelled up in ribbons of bright-tinted greens that were nicely offset by the whiteness of the fish. It would have been good to have more descriptions on the menu of what was in the dishes; we couldn’t work out what was in the beautifully lurid orange sauce that came with the cod, but regardless, we could have polished off an entire bucketful. With dessert, the colour combinations were particularly pleasing once again: the winter rhubarb in the crumble was a delicate pearly pink, contrasted by the golden crunch of the topping and a jaunty blueberry perched rakishly atop the ice-cream. An evening spent dining at the Royal Academy is an experience that comes highly recommended, for the décor, the food and the delightful sense of hiding out in the basement for an illicit ‘night at the museum’, aided and abetted by the wonderfully welcoming staff. On Friday nights, the exhibitions open until late, so you can browse both the menu and the artwork to your heart’s content: food to feed both your artistic soul and your grumbling tummy.