Dinner at the Royal Academy – Keeper’s House:
I have a soft spot for the Royal Academy. Not only is it one of London’s finest art galleries, but The Royal Academy entirely funded by the revenues they make and by donations. No money from the taxpayer – unless he or she chooses (like me) to be a friend. Originally I bought a friends pass for my mother, a real art lover. When she visited London I’d go along with her to whatever exhibition happened to be on at the time (free for friends and a +1) and then we’d sit and have a cup of tea and piece of fruit cake in the friends’ room. When Mum became too ill to visit herself, I made her a promise that I’d transfer the friends membership to myself and would continue to go. And, a few years after she died, I’m still a member, I still visit regularly with that strange loyalty that comes from what had, for me, become a family tradition.
Keeper’s House is a relatively new addition to the Royal Academy – tucked away to one side of the main building with its own adjoining bar. It opened to the public and friends in 2013 and I can remember going along for supper after an exhibition at a time when the content of London-Unattached was more focused on balcony gardening and making smoothies than fine dining. For whatever reason I didn’t write anything about the place at the time, though I remember having rather a wonderful meal. So I was thrilled to be invited back a week or so ago. I’d planned to go to the new exhibition, Painting the Modern Garden, first but actually ran late at a meeting and need to go back at a later date. Instead, we arrived in time to have a cocktail at the Shenkman Bar first before moving into the dining room at 6pm.
The restaurant is a cosy room with green baize panelling displaying works of art. While the banquettes looked comfy, I wasn’t a great fan of the seating at the tables for two had cream leather and chrome chairs, seemed prettier to look at rather than comfortable to sit on. But, food is usually enough to divert my attention – especially when good bread starts the meal. And what we were served was excellent – tasty enough to replace a starter for those a little less greedy than me.
Meanwhile we ordered a bottle of wine to share and some food. My dining companion’s starter of octopus carpaccio with garlic oil and pickled radish was beautiful and delicious. I tasted a morsel of this finely sliced seafood, it was tender and full of flavour with not a hint of rubberiness.
My order of caramelised shallot and mushroom tart was somewhat unexpected. It came with a generous garnish of salad leaves hiding what I believe was goats cheese crumbled over the mushroom and shallot mixture, all on a flaky pastry base. I’d expected more of an earthy mixture of mushrooms and sweet shallots and the dish, while really pleasant, was dominated by the salad leaf topping.
We both chose fish for our main course – in my case, lemon sole on the bone was beautifully cooked and served with a side order of a sauteed spinach, a home made tartare sauce with capers and gherkins and a generous handful of green peppercorns. I think my sense of smell and taste has been quite affected by a recent bout of flu and I found the garnish was just a little overwhelming for the delicious and delicate fish.
My companion’s cod was served on a bed of sea purslane, leeks and watercress. It looked stunning and was immaculately cooked – a light and perfect supper dish.
On to dessert, I picked the Bramley apple crumble with vanilla ice cream – one of those dishes that epitomises winter for me. Topped with an oaty crumble it was a tasty and comforting end to the meal.
My companion’s home-made caramel ice cream looked simple enough but tasted wonderful. I wonder if they sell ice cream in cones in the summer – I’ll be there if they do.
All in, this was a pleasant, though not astonishing evening. The early promise of a very fine cocktail and excellent bread didn’t somehow follow through in every dish – some of what was served later really delivered. My dining companion fared best with a perfect dish of cod and a near perfect octopus carpaccio. My sole seemed just a little ‘overwhelmed’ – perhaps that was the effect of my heightened sense of smell and taste or perhaps a bit of food envy of the delicate dish opposite? No-one though, would be disappointed here – it’s good all round cooking in a pleasant environment. Pricing is reasonable – and in addition to an a la carte, there’s a very well priced set menu available until 7pm And I shall continue to visit the RA and to dine at Keepers House – next time I’m having the cod!