Want more food with your art? Ochre, at the National Gallery, is a winner.
Just after the classics? Head to our list of the best restaurants in London.
What's the deal?
Some restaurants just have “it” – that abstract, ineffable vibe. It’s a vibe that makes you totally at home; that open-armed feeling of warmth and ease that relaxes you into your chair, speak candidly with your dinner mate, or order that surplus bottle of wine because you’re just too cosy to leave. A much-coveted thing, but impossible to manufacture – a restaurant either has it, or it doesn’t.
Townsend – the in-house restaurant at the Whitechapel Gallery – has it in spades. Owner Nick Gilkinson and chef Chris Shaw (who previously worked at vibe-purveyors like Anglo and Petersham Nurseries) know how to turn a restaurant into a beloved institution, and they bring their savoir faire to this stylishly stripped-back dining room. Divided into two spaces – one brightened by large, ornamented windows, the other made moodier by dark panelling – that both share a straightforward, Scandi approach to design, the immediate feeling you get after walking in from busy Whitechapel High Street is of a pleasant, but chatty, calm. Diners huddle closely around tables, deep in what appears to be intimate conversation.
The food, too, is the kind of cosy, uncomplicated stuff that makes diners into regulars – those quietly delicious plates that make as excellent a midweek dinner as they do a long, indulgent lunch. Shaw’s seasonal menu – built around UK-sourced produce – brims with flavour, but is never showy. Favourites like Red Leicester croquettes or pork chop with plums, onions, and capers riff on classic British tastes while never feeling any more fussy than a good pub roast (and no, they don’t have any roasts on the menu here – but their excellent Sunday menu does feature an equally comforting Hereford bavette steak or brown-butter fried celeriac). This is one to come back to again, and again, and again…
What should I eat?
The Red Leicester croquettes are a delicious, postmodern take on finger-greasing pub fare, served, in twos, with a sprinkling of more cheese and an inspired pickled walnut ketchup.
This is the type of place where you want to hunker down with a juicy cut of meat, and their Paddock farm pork chop – slathered in whole grain mustard and poached turnips, and served with rainbow chard and a dollop of burnt apple puree – is the star of a meal here.
Dessert is an essential bit of the Townsend experience – there are three rotating options on the menu, and the caramelised plum tart is a constant. A perfect circle of pastry topped with sticky, high-gloss plum and a spoonful of creme fraiche.
Why should I go?
For a leisurely meal with good company (BYO company).
77-82 Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX