Take in breathtaking artwork while you enjoy delectable food at London's fabulous crop of art restaurants
If it’s true that the appetite begins with the eye, what happens when delicious food meets artwork? Some of the capital’s best eateries are putting on exhibitions to rival those in the best art galleries (see sketch, picture here), others showcase their owners’ vast collections or even hosts an artist-in-residence. The end result is a vibrant art restaurant scene where your eyes feast as much as your palate.
The latest Mark Hix opening in the capital, Hixter is another of his successful chicken and steak restaurants (see our review of Tramshed, his first, later in this gallery). But apart from the food (which is simple but delicious - don't miss his version of bread and butter; huge puffed up Yorkshire puddings with whipped chicken livers for £3.95) it's Mark Hix's love of modern art that really shines through. The main dining room is on the first floor of the Old East India Warehouse company and there's two massive James Joyce paintings and a Peter Newman photo cleverly mounted on the ceiling. Other works specially commissioned for the space are by Tracey Emin, Gary Webb and Jake & Dinos Chapman. With Mark's bar downstairs (the baby sister to his infamous cocktail bar in Soho) and a private dining room which has rotating artwork from Mark's Cock & Bull art gallery on display, there's plenty to feast your eyes on. That's if there's space after you've ordered the surf and turf – steaks served with a half or whole roast lobster on top!
Michelin-starred Pied à Terre is so serious about art that it hosts an annual artist-in-residence programme. Every year, a contemporary artist gains an eight-month residency with access to all parts of the restaurant, which culminates in a solo exhibition. In 2013, it was the turn of Tim Head, who drew inspiration from the work of his former tutor, the late Richard Hamilton, whose art also graces the walls of Pied à Terre along with works by Peter Blake and Howard Hodgkin.
The dining room at this striking Soho hotel combines traditional English decor - think vintage armchairs and cut-glass chandeliers - with contemporary artwork by artists of the calibre of Tracey Emin, Peter Blake, Fiona Banner and Paul Noble. The menu follows along the same lines, reinterpreting British classics in a modern key. See The Dining Room at Dean Street House for more details.
You can't miss the massive Damien Hirst artwork in the middle of this huge warehouse-esque space in Shoreditch (which was once an electricity generating facility for the Tramway system). Specially commissioned by restauranteur Marx Hix himself, it's a large formaldehyde-filled tank containing a cockerel standing on a cows back and called, tongue firmly in cheek, 'Cock and Bull'. This is also the name of Mark's art gallery in the basement, which gives a wide range of artists,both well known and undiscovered, the chance to showcase their work in exhibitions changing every four weeks. With regular talks, discussions and events, there's always something going on and it's worth popping in before or after eating. Tramshed is one of the original single-dish restaurants – its menu consists of simple but well sourced chicken and steak – but continues to be one of the best.
The Rex Whistler Room is one of the earliest restaurants where art met food. Opened in 1927, it featured a specially commissioned mural by painter and illustrator Rex Whistler. The Expedition In Pursuit of Rare Meats, which tells the story of a group of people who set out across magical lands to discover exotic meats, earned the restaurant the accolade of 'The Most Amusing Room in Europe' according to commentators of the times. The mural miraculously survived the 1928 Thames flood and still graces the restaurant walls to this day. The menu by head chef Nathan Brewster also celebrates the Rex Whistler Room's heritage with a selection of traditional British dishes.
Nearly every inch of Berners Tavern's grandiose stuccoed walls is covered in art - haunting still lifes, idyllic landscapes, striking photographs, all perfectly lit by gorgeous chandeliers. And on the table, the imaginative contemporary British menu, which features dishes such as Roasted Cornish sea bass, brown shrimp, samphire and kale, and wholegrain mustard, will delight the palate.
sketch is more than a restaurant. Intent on creating the ultimate destination for food, art and music, owner Mourad Mazouz tapped on the skills of superstar chef Pierre Gagnaire, who devised three adventurous menus featuringh dishes such as egg yolk ravioli, fondue of chicory, grapefruit, mango with spinach purée. He then surrounded the dining tables with exquisite artwork by both established and up-and-coming artists. To top it all off, Mazouz, who previously called on Turner Prize winner Martin Creed to decorate sketch's Gallery room (pictured), has now commissioned Turner Prize nominee David Shrigley to transform the space.