Now and again it`s possible in London to stumble upon a hidden gem that`s mysteriously evaded the tourist trail. My latest find is RIBA – the Royal Institute of British Architects. Although only a short distance away from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street and despite being both a haven and a home to our best designers it`s unknown to most of the general public. Anyone can make use of the bar, restaurant or café during the day which remain remarkably peaceful in contrast to the neighbouring shopping district.
Completed in 1934 it`s a striking example of art deco design. From the imposing bronze entrance doors to the sculpted figures carved into the exterior and interior stone walls. Softly lit glass screens, black marble walls, polished wood panelling, smooth lines and soft curves grace the interior throughout- the deceptive simplicity is a fabulous reminder of all that is great and good about this period.
Dining, events and corporate functions are all held in the largest room: Florence Hall. Occupying the heart of RIBA at the top of the foyers sweeping staircase it doesn`t disappoint. Floor to ceiling windows enclose a light and dramatic interior while the centre of the room remains home to temporary exhibitions. Tables, chairs and circular leather booths line the periphary of the hall – it all feels very masculine and sophisticated. In fact the sheer size of the room spaces diners so comfortably apart there is no danger of overhearing another party`s conversation, it`s the perfect setting for a power lunch. Several of our fellow dining companions looking engrossed in corporate chat and probably were taking advantage of the `45 minute` menu – 3 courses designed for those who need to head back to the office. My partner and I were lucky enough to have the rest of the day free so took the experience at a much more relaxed pace. Taking our lead from the halls huge xmas tree we started with a quick catch up over a mulled wine xmas cosmo. If you are down a RIBA before xmas order one- they are amazing!
The menu is modern British cuisine with French influences, for example a couple of its highlights include a twice-baked Gruyere and artichoke soufflé and marble game terrine with toasted brioche. The recently appointed chef Michael Paul has an impressive CV including time spent at chef de parte no 1 Lombard street and his expertise was evident throughout meal. The pan-fried scallops I chose to start came beautifully arranged on a bed of thinly sliced potatoe, pea hoot salad and cauliflower puree. Flawless. My companion chose the wild mushroom winter truffle veloute with pan-fried pancetta lardoons, rich and utterly delicious. To accompany the main we ordered a galss of presecco and I continued with the fish ordering the sea bass fillet with boulangere potatoes dressed in a noilly prat veloute. Rich yet not overpowering the sauce complimented both the texture of the buttery potato and tangy undertones of the bass. My partners choose the wintry venision with red cabbage, chive and bacon baked potato and blackberry jus. I sampled a piece of the venison, which was remarkably tender, it`s heavy notes lightened by the sweet berries, a great choice.
Keeping in the festive spirit we finished by sharing a spiced ginger parfait with confit prunes. Beautifully presented and icy cool on the palette it finished off the meal perfectly. As we sat there rounding off the afternoon with two black coffees the fantastic staff began shifting the central exhibition around ready for an event that evening. It seems RIBA is more than just a restaurant, it`s a living, breathing institute running at the same pace as the rest of the city. As we left into a grey a drizzly London night we took some of it`s magic with us. I will certainly be returning.
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