Jim and Jane are a couple of fellow hedonists and now regular contributors to the Hg2 Blog. Their identities? A mystery. We’ll be bringing you their restaurant reviews each and every week. This week the couple check out The National Café, an elegant eatery found in the East Wing of The National Gallery.
Read their last review on Mushu here
Check out their blog here
The National Café, East Wing, The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N
Jill: Austere times call for austere measures, but standards need to be maintained. I know plenty of my friends think that paying full retail is acceptable but I’ve always enjoyed bargain-hunting, especially in a city such as London where a Zone 1 and 2 travel card is only half the price of a weekly unlimited travel pass in New York. Or where restaurants feel justified in converting a £6.75 bottle of Pinot Grigiot into four glasses at £6.50 each. And while I’m at it, try convincing an American that it’s OK to call two pieces of bread with one slice of ham in between a ‘sandwich’. For the average tourist, London must seem like one humongous exercise in how to extricate as much money as possible from their wallets in the shortest space of time. It’s hard to be austere in the most expensive city in the world.
Even so, speaking as a not-so-well-off hedonist, I know there are plenty of bargains to be had in the capital. My local high-street has been the source of the majority of my designer wardrobe for the past couple of years, featuring no less than five charity shops, where local celebs like to drop off their hardly-worn clothes. I know a five-star hotel where you can get a day room for an afternoon delight for less than £50 and a local spa where I can relax for under £10 a day. The city features a mine of bargains rarely shared by anyone actually living here for fear they might suddenly disappear if too many people are found to be in the know.
But today I’m feeling generous, thanks in part to Jim, who suggested some mid-week ‘entertainment’ to break up our busy working week. Anticipating some carnal pleasure, I was surprised when he proposed an early dinner followed by a West End show.
‘Are you tiring of me, already?’ I said.
‘Not at all, sweetie,’ he replied. ‘But I thought you’d enjoy a change. I’ve got a room booked at the Meridian and two tickets to End of the Rainbow, that Judy Garland show you wanted to see.’
‘You’re so thoughtful,’ I replied, ‘How about I choose the restaurant?’
Jim doesn’t need to bargain hunt but, a bit like me, I know he enjoys good value. Living in a parallel universe to my own that means handmade suits from an ex-Savile Row tailor that cost just short of £1,000 instead of the usual £1,500+ you’ll find on the Row. Jim’s idea of a reasonably priced meal for two is £50 before wine but with Christmas and the January tax bill only just behind us, I knew that he wasn’t feeling especially flush. Hearing The National Café had just launched ‘Dinner for a Tenner’, I thought might be just what we both needed and a change from our usual fare.
Jim: ‘Dinner and the theatre – how civilised,’ said Jill down the end of the phone when I suggested a mid-week night out. But when she told me what she had in mind, I was dubious. Dinner for a Tenner? Surely it will be re-heated microwave hash with boil-in-the-bag mash?
‘Come on, get out of your comfort zone and see if your jaded palate is up to it’, said Jill.
Never one to turn down a challenge, I agreed. After all, how bad can a French brasserie be? We arrived to a half-full restaurant; obviously our fellow diners had an eye for a bargain, too. Prompt service and a quick scan of the prix-fix menu offered us a main, with a side dish and a selection of wine, beer or cocktail. All very civilised. Two glasses of fine Languedoc Chardonnay were quickly in our hot little hands. Jill went for a South Western French Cassoulet and I, being somewhat conscious of my waistline and ticker, went for the vegetarian lasagne. Both dishes arrived promptly and as described on the menu. Incidentally, better than some two- Michelin-starred joints can do.
Overall, a real bargain for a very fine meal and such a great location. Highly recommended for the current austere times – even better would be the late opening of the gallery for a quick postprandrial stroll.