We sent Jack down to one of London’s most fascinating (and free) museums – The Wellcome collection, which is in Euston. But, instead of letting him take in the exhibits, we sent him upstairs to the Wellcome’s restaurant for dinner. This is what happened.
Modern European, traditional British Tea.
Tourists wanting to experience Afternoon Tea as we do it in London – sandwiches, cakes, 5’oclock – the works, served in beautiful crockery.
The arrangers of light business lunches and speedy coffee breaks in an understated, quiet and distinguished space.
‘Museum folk’ and culture vultures. See the exhibits, have some lunch and coffee, and then relax in the excellent Reading Room, which is just opposite to the restaurant. Also older ladies.
In a Word
Henry Wellcome was a pharmaceutical entrepreneur whose passion for medicine led him to collect ‘more than a million objects’ (or so I am told). What’s the difference between Henry and your average hoarder? The amount of disposable income, probably – oh, and the Knighthood. When Sir Henry died in 1936, his will made provisions for the creation of the amazing Wellcome Collection.
Designed to make people ‘think deeply about the connections between science, medicine, life and art.’, the Collection itself is a remarkable place – full of curiosities, eccentricities and artefacts designed to inform you and I about the history of medicine, and the work undertaken by the Wellcome Foundation. Its exhibitions and museum are, as far as I know, all available for free. And you can’t argue with that.
So, as you’ve probably sussed, The Wellcome Kitchen is the Collection’s In House restaurant – though to me it feels more like ‘tea room occasionally doubling as restaurant’ (more of a lunch than a dinner destination). Since late dinners are only served here once a week, maybe there’s something to that.
I get 15 minutes to explore the collection and get to see John Isaac’s giant tumorous blob guy (“I Can’t Help The Way I Feel”), plus a naked man made of iron straddling the ceiling. The lulz are strong. I wish I had longer to explore such anatomical inconsistencies but, ironically, my cowriter shows up on time.
Getting a seat is a bit of faff. There’s a spot for a receptionist at the front of the restaurant, but she is nowhere to be found – the result is a short line of what I recall to be mostly elderly people looking slightly forlorn. A short time later, she reappears and all is well (she will later disappear again, as if by magic, never to be seen again that evening).
Many refer to it as a well-kept secret or ‘hidden gem’, this quiet space amidst the tourist fuelled chaos of Euston and King’s Cross. The restaurant itself, located on the second floor, is a quiet and relaxing space, far removed from the heavy traffic, pedestrian phalanx warfare and heavy footfall on the pavement (and cafe) on the floor below. It’s about 10 minutes from Euston Station.
It’s a spacious, high ceilinged and airy place divided into two big rooms. The walls are decorated with artwork, the focal point of such artwork being Susie Freeman’s ‘Pill Dress’ (keeping with the medicinal theme).
Today it’s run by Benugo, who seem to have the monopoly on London museums and art galleries (Westminster Abbey, The BFI, etc..)
Despite what you’d expect to be somewhat formal surroundings, the Wellcome Kitchen is rather low key. The collection and location are prestigious, but the restaurant itself is not at all ‘fancy’. Everything’s cool and everyone’s OK.
Speaking of everyone being OK, the spaciousness of the venue means big spaces between tables – so it’s one of those places where you’re not subjected to the conversation of nearby diners, and the wait staff need not be subjected to awkward shuffling around tables and chairs
The venue may be ‘incurably curious’, but the food isn’t. The Kitchen focuses on a seasonal, stripped down, Modern European menu – simple food on the main part. Some people really like crockery – one of these people was put in charge of procurement at The Wellcome Collection – the plates and cups are quite beautiful and remind me of my long deceased grandmother’s fine china.
Morning coffee and pastries are served from 11.00, lunch and traditional afternoon tea daily from 15.00, and dinner on Thursday evenings and the First Fridays of the month. You’re not likely to get rushed if you drop in for lunch, but due to something to do with their opening hours, they are pretty keen to finish on time on the rare evening that they are open.
It’s also licensed so if you fancy ‘lunch (or dinner) with a punch’, knock yourself/your liver out. The drinks menu is similarly streamlined, 3 beers, 7 wines (plus two extra sparkling), LOTS of tea and coffee choices, plus a few soft drinks. Wine bar, this is not, so perhaps stick to the hibiscus tea.
Bruschetta; Mozarella, Tomato, Citrus Cress, Olive Oil Dressing £4.50
Dom orders this. Surprisingly, it’s one of the best bruschettas I have ever eaten in my life. I don’t know how they did it (it’s not like they focus on Italian food) but it quickly falls apart and is devoured within minutes. Amazing.
Homemade Soup Of The Day, Bread and Butter £5.50
Mushroom soup (with extra mushrooms!). Hale and hearty, mushroom party. For some reason it takes me about half an hour to eat, which is awkward considering how fast we get through the bruschetta. OK, not great – does the job.
Salad; Grilled Halloumi, Roasted Fennel, Pumpkin Seeds and Orange Dressing £9.50
Truly the Main Battle Tank of all salads. Perhaps you could call it a ‘cheese salad’. The halloumi portions are generous (working very nicely with the pomegranate) – the overall effect is highly satisfying. This could be a main all on its own. Excellent.
Wellcome Kitchen Burger; Smoked Bacon and Caramelised Onions, Tomato and Mayonnaise, Sweet Potato Fries £12.50
5/10 burger – good, not great. Like many places making burgers, the flavour of the various additions drowns out the underlying burger (though the bacon is quite satisfying). They get the sweet potato fries right.
Pecan Tart and Ice Cream £5.50
Basically a good, firm Pecan Tart – it would take some effort to actually get this wrong. I forgot how much I like pecan.
Warm Chocolate Brownie and Ice Cream £5
Optimal squashyness and portion size – oh yes.
If the restaurant was designed to play second fiddle to the eccentric, exploratory experience of the Collection itself – then that’s what they have achieved here.
It’s certainly good based on what I have seen – the food is reasonably priced, the staff are attentive – but none of it is ‘great’. There’s no ‘je ne sais quoi’, and, dare I say, it’s a little bit boring. I mean good…but boring. Like one of those people who’s really nice but tends not to have much to say and the conversation dries up after about 10 minutes. The general consensus amongst visitors seems to be that they’ll need to do better to be comparable to the V&A.
No qualms about recommending it to anyone already in the building, but I wouldn’t go out of my way just to visit the restaurant. I’d like to come for Afternoon Tea instead, which is what I believe they do best, and that I sense would be a completely different (and possibly more impressive) experience.
Nevertheless, an enjoyable meal.
183 Euston Rd, Bloomsbury, London WC1H 0AY
020 7611 2066