An air of melancholy hangs over the National Café. The room is too big, with a ceiling a mile from the floor and windows thus too high to see out of. Rarely full, this Thursday evening we had the pick of the room and chose a corner table (standard agent choice – back to the wall and a view to both exits). The décor, even ten years or so after opening, is hi spec with lovely red leather furnishings, woody warm walls and antiqued mirrors. It’s the melancholic air that draws me back. That and the macaroni cheese, which is perfect post-guiding fare.
The melancholy was added to by the state of Trafalgar Square. Why Shrigley, why? All those stick balancing Yoda scroungers, now transformed by the Magic of Christmas into rapacious aerial Santas, make a mockery of the imperial pomposity of the Square’s original plan far more effectively than Shrigley’s tragic waste of bronze could ever do. The big thumb is a piece of egocentric art so facile it makes a Banksy graffito of a transvestite copper look like a piece of allegory on a par with Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time.
But I digress.
We chose from the Italian set menu, drawn up in honour of the Caravaggio exhibition in the Sainsbury Wing. Bean soup to start was a winner as I was exceedingly hungry. Plenty of satisfyingly thick soup and some good bread to go with it. Bruschetta next to me looked a bit meagre but was made up for by a generous helping of pasta with shin bone beef as a main course. My roast cod was delicious enough with enough cherry tomatoes alongside to see off a whole platoon of prostate problems but the side order of chips was a curiously bloodless affair and appeared to have been assembled at very short notice.
A small tragedy around the wine.The list had the same Oregonian red that I’d enjoyed at the Opera but at twenty quid less. I put in an immediate order. And rhapsodised on its qualities. But what’s this? None left! A stab to the alcoholic vitals that was only slightly mitigated by its Pinot Noir replacement being a tenner cheaper.
Though the room was sparsely occupied a certain charm was added by the friendliness of the staff, who chatted to us about the film that we’d been to see (Son of Joseph at the ICA – highly recommended). Unfortunately this was to a backdrop of music sorely lacking in taste in a venue such as this. A cover version of Eddie Reader’s Perfect? U2’s A Beautiful Day?! And they were the least rancorous of the selections.
After coffee (good coffee) and dealing with some comic business around the bill we slipped across to the Opera Room of the Chandos to rediscover a jolly festive tone and leave the melancholia behind.
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Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).