The Wallace Collection, with its vast array of beautiful 18th Century furniture, paintings, and porcelain, all of which is accessible for free, seven days a week, is truly one of London’s hidden gems in terms of art exhibitions. For foodies, however, it holds an additional attraction, in the form of its spacious and sumptuous restaurant. Housed in a sort of atrium, the space is wonderfully bright and airy, decorated with simple foliage; the crisp white table linen speaks of quiet elegance, and the wrought iron garden chairs are made surprisingly comfortable with plump crimson cushions. The whole place gives the impression of dining outdoors, indoors, and the atmosphere is refined without being overly formal. Given how quiet the restaurant was of a Saturday lunch time, I can only assume it remains relatively unknown. If this restaurant review helps to change that at all, I shall be very glad, as the Wallace Restaurant deserves a reputation as a calm foodie oasis in the bustle of the capital.
I actually stumbled across the Wallace Restaurant when Googling places to eat with my most regular vegetarian dining partner. She’s not a fan of risotto, the most common fall-back option for chefs who can’t quite decide what to feed those pesky vegetarians, so we sometimes struggle to find places to do lunch. At the time of my search, the Wallace was promoting a special vegetarian tasting menu, which looked delicious even to an omnivore like me, so I got straight on the phone to book. I specifically asked whether the vegetarian menu would still be available several weeks later when we had planned our lunch and was assured that it would. When we arrived, we were shown to our table and handed the à la carte and set lunch menus, but there was no sign of the vegetarian menu. When I asked our waitress, she said it had only been running for one month as a special promotion and was no longer available. She was very apologetic when I explained that it was the reason for our visit and that we had specifically asked about it when booking, and pointed out that a few of the items from it had in fact been put on the set lunch menu as they had been so popular. Finding the set lunch options quite tempting in any event, we decided to make the best of things and order.
To begin, neither of us could resist the “parfait au yaourt, petits pois frais pochés et fenouil sauvage”. This was a chilled disc of fantastically light and creamy yoghurt parfait, prettily presented and topped with poached petit pois that were simply bursting with brilliant freshness. The wild fennel gave the dish a delicate hint of aniseed, while a beautiful mint granita added a wonderful contrasting sweetness. Were it not for one tiny mouthful of ice crystals that we each had at one edge of our parfaits, we would have said this was the perfect starter.
For main course, my dining partner was pleased to see that the dish she would have picked from the vegetarian menu was in fact the one that had made it onto the set lunch menu: “gnocchi d’orties et menthe aquatique, fromage frais et parmesan”. The greyish, somewhat stodgy looking lumps of gnocchi didn’t exactly make for the most attractive looking meal presentation-wise, but they do say it’s the taste that’s the important part. And these gnocchi were not like any we had tasted before, as the nettle gave them a satisfyingly earthy, spinachy sort of flavour, which was really brought to life by the slight mentholy tang of the water mint. They were, however, about as stodgy as they looked and my dining partner struggled to finish them. The accompanying crème fraiche added smoothness of texture, while the punchily salty parmesan provided a pleasant contrast to the delicacy of the other flavours.
My own main course of choice was the “truite de mer, pourpier de mer et salade de fenouil”, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The vibrant pink trout was perfectly cooked – seared through but still wonderfully moist, with a delightfully crispy skin – its mild flavour was well complimented by the salty sea purslane and the fabulously fine shavings of licoricey fennel. Although delicious, it was a very light main, and I found I was glad of the generous basket of fresh, crusty sourdough bread we had been given when we sat down, managing to polish off two slices as an accompaniment to my meal.
Both my dining partner and I have a bit of a weakness for desserts, so there was no way we were going to forego them here. Although tempted by the pistachio crème caramel, in the end we both went for the “profiteroles à la crème de praline, chocolat chaud”. As profiteroles go, these were pretty good – the choux pastry was brilliantly crisp and airy and the liquid chocolate sauce was decadently rich, while the whipped cream filling was wonderfully light. We did feel a little let down however, as we had interpreted the description “à la crème de praline” to mean that the cream filling would be flavoured with praline. Instead, the praline was merely a sweet additional sauce, swirled in to the chocolate sauce and slightly lost amidst its intense richness. I’ve always found that restaurant profiteroles portions are a bit on the large side, but the Wallace’s were truly gargantuan. Each Wallace profiterole was about the size of three ordinary profiteroles, and there were two of them on my plate – a veritable mountain of choux pastry surrounded by a lake of dark chocolate sauce. Needless to say, neither of us could conquer them, although we tried our utmost.
In terms of drinks, the Wallace Restaurant’s entirely French wine list offers a good selection of whites and reds, ranging from entry level bottles for less than £20 to the finer red wines for closer to £100. There are a decent few available by the glass, and although I was sad to find that my first choice (a Viognier) was out of stock, I did very much enjoy my second choice, the pleasingly fruity Domaine Coste rosé, from the Languedoc region (£6 for 175ml). For those after something non-alcoholic, the Wallace has the usual array of soft drinks, plus some very appealing sounding home-made fruit juice blends such as cucumber, mint, apple & elderflower, or honeydew melon, pineapple & ginger, as well as an impressive selection of teas by Peyton & Byrne (the brand behind the restaurant).
Service throughout our meal was professional – friendly yet understated, and we didn’t have any trouble attracting our waiter’s attention when we needed something. Although we were initially disappointed by the unavailability of the vegetarian menu, and there were a couple of little niggles with the food, overall we were thoroughly pleased with our lunch at the Wallace Restaurant. And when three largely delicious courses, a glass of wine, mineral water and service in such delightful surroundings totals around £37 per head, you can’t really complain too much. As a result, the final score for the Wallace Restaurant is a well-deserved four Forks-Up.The Wallace Restaurant Hertford House Manchester Square London W1U 3BN T: 020 7563 9505