Wearing sunglasses inside is one of those things I swore I would never do. Reserved for the uber-famous or uber-idiotic, it’s a habit I do not admire. But as I sat sipping a gently fizzing flume of champagne at my table in The Wallace Collection restaurant I found myself rummaging through my handbag for my trusty shades. The sunshine beaming through the glass ceiling was so bright, the room so airy and open, I could easily have been enjoying lunch al fresco in West Hollywood, not inside an historic London townhouse in a quiet corner in Marylebone.
The Wallace Collection gallery in Manchester Square is famed for its extensive displays of French 18th-century painting, furniture and porcelain. Visitors come from across the world to admire The Great Gallery, which has been described as “the greatest picture gallery in Europe”. But what you may not know is that the restaurant housed in the inside courtyard has become a revered destination in itself.
Split into a self-service cafe style eatery, and a more formal sit-down restaurant, the menu offers a sophisticated choice of modern French cuisine complimented by an expansive wine list. There’s a fixed price menu for a very reasonable £23 for two courses and £28 for three.
Pan fried mackerel with a pesto salsa, and asparagus with a sauce gribiche are among the innovative entrees on offer. My guest ordered the latter while I opted for the chilled tomato soup with goat cheese and basil. While thicker than a Gazpacho it was just as refreshing, and the creamy goats cheese gave an extra texture and body to the dish. My guest’s choice of asparagus was equally as pleasing. The gribiche – a dressing similar to a tartare sauce made with egg,, mustard and capers – was chilled and bursting with flavour.
The Plat Principal is a grand affair, with pan roasted lemon sole dressed in grenobloise (browned butter with lemon and capers) and roast poussin with sugar snaps and sprout salad both proving popular dishes. But I was tempted by the spring vegetable en papillote – an artistic masterpiece of stuffed tomatoes and mini courgettes, filled with organic buckwheat and a spicy sauce; and my guest enjoyed the sea bass, served with tomatoes and courgettes. While they took a while to arrive, both were certainly worth the wait.
There are almost 40 French wines to choose from on the carefully selected wine list, from several sparkling by the glass to vintage and organic options. We enjoyed a Domaine Guy Allion 2013 Sauvignon. Excellent value at £27.50, a fresh, light wine, delicate enough to allow all of the fantastic flavours of our food.
The Wallace Collection restaurant is a London dining experience just waiting to be discovered. Flooded with natural light and dotted with trees and sculptures, it offers al fresco dining in a sublime setting protected from both the elements and the bustle of the West End.