Did you know that the National Gallery cafe does more than just tea and cakes? Run by Peyton and Byrne, the cafe aims to have complementary set menus for each of the major exhibitions on at the National Gallery. Recently opened is Sorolla, the Spanish master of light. This is the inspiration behind the National Gallery cafe’s Sorolla set menu. I was lucky to be invited along via Love Pop Ups London to try out the Sorollla set menu at the National Gallery cafe. Read on to see what I thought:
*Full disclosure, my meal and drinks were free in return for this honest review*
Sorolla set menu at the National Gallery cafe
Where is the National Gallery cafe?
I’m not being silly here! There is more than one restaurant / cafe around the National Gallery. There are the National Gallery Dining Rooms, the National Portrait Gallery cafe & restaurant, as well as the National Gallery cafe.
You can find the Cafe on the ground floor, accessed from the East side of the Gallery, off of Trafalgar Square on Charing Cross road.
Sorolla – Spanish master of light and the inspiration behind the menu
The exhibition at the National Gallery is the first UK exhibition of Spain’s Impressionist, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863–1923), in over a century.
Sorolla is known as the ‘master of light’ for his iridescent canvases. So this is a rare opportunity to see the most complete exhibition of his paintings outside Spain. The exhibition features 58 pieces from across Sorolla’s career. These form the inspiration for The Sorolla set menu, which is not limited to being ‘traditional’ Spanish.
The menu is available from 18th March through 7th July to coincide with the exhibition.
The choices for the starters were smoked ham and manchego cheese croquettes, pata negra ham with pickles and artichokes, or a chilled tomato & garlic soup. Whilst I knew there was some kind of ham on the menu, I didn’t realise that the pata negra was the ham option and the chilled ‘gazpacho’ soup wasn’t quite what we were feeling. So everyone on the table went for croquettes!
The croquettes were perfectly cooked. Crisp cocoons for the soft cheesy ham and potato filling. Classically served with a pimento (pepper) aioli, a drizzle of oil and edible nasturtium leaves, this was a very summery plate. And it tasted delicious too!
I can imagine the ham and tomato soup being good choices for a Summer dinner when it’s a bit hotter outside.
The choice for the mains was blackened hake, vegetable paella or a chicken and chorizo salad. This time only most of the table ordered the same thing.
I ordered the blackened hake and this came on a bed of pureed potato, served with romesco sauce and the same olive dressing.
The hake was well cooked – not burnt at all. The charred crust of herbs helps keep the flesh moist inside. Whilst this would never be called healthy (it usually involves a lot of butter!), it sure is a delicious way to serve any white fish. The potatoes were very finely pureed – so much so that I thought this was a second sauce. These aren’t mentioned in the menu description, so we ordered some sides, but you don’t actually need more carbs with this. The romesco sauce is the traditional pepper and almond sauce, that adds a nice richness to the dish.
Beth went for the veggie option – a vegetable paella. As I mentioned before, the menu takes inspiration from Spain, so this wouldn’t be considered ‘traditional’. However it was tasty, using saffron to flavour and colour the rice and full to bursting with summery vegetables. I think you’d agree it looks pretty appealing?
Chelsea needed greens, so she chose the chicken and chorizo salad, which delighted her:
This was a substantial salad, with chickpeas being the magic ingredient that filled Chelsea up. She reckoned that she wouldn’t have needed any additional sides with this (but we tried some anyway!)
The polenta fries and chips with aioli came recommended,
The polenta fries are chunky! You could build things out of these. They worked well with the spicy aioli, but I was glad that we shared them between the 6 of us as they were quite filling.
Then we had to try something a bit more healthy. So the broccoli with chili and garlic and the asparagus with percorino.
The Sorolla Set menu includes two choices for dessert: Tarta de Santiago and Crema Catalana, I went for the Tarta de Santiago, a flourless almond tarte. They serve this with clotted cream or you can choose ice cream or custard.
The almond tarte had a lovely fragrant taste, which really lifted it. I think this was from the addition of orange or lemon zest.
Beth got the Crema Catalana – the Spanish equivalent of posset or a set cream.
The Crema had a delicate lemon taste, but wasn’t as set as Beth was expecting it to be. This was a very rich way to end the meal.
With our meal we decided not to dig into the sherry selection on the menu, but instead we started with a glass of cava.
For those who were drinking red wine we then tried another red Rioja.
All the wine we had was lovely and it was good to pair the Spanish inspired menu with Spanish wines. I still need to learn more about sherry before I could dive into the sherries on the menu.
I think the Sorolla set menu is great value for money at £19 for two courses and £24 for three. Whilst we had additional side dishes, you don’t need this to fill you up, all the portions are decently sized. I found the food to be tasty, and I liked the Spanish influence. I can’t tell if something was only ‘inspired’ by Spain and not true to the traditional though.
Everyone enjoyed the croquettas and the hake was very filling. The only course that didn’t quite wow was the desserts, but hey, who needs dessert everyday? I’d totally go back on a hot day and try the chilled soup and the chicken and chorizo salad.
As a set menu, it is limited. So it would be difficult for people with dietary restrictions to eat off this menu. If you don’t have dietary requirements then this menu is perfect for a post Sorolla exhibition dinner or a pre-theatre meal.
The Sorolla set menu is available at the National Cafe until 7 July 2019.
National Cafe Opening Times:
Monday – Thursday: 9.30am – 8.30pm
Friday: 9.30am – 10pm
Sat & Sunday: 9.30am–6pm
Lunch is available from 12:00 noon daily, and the kitchen closes at 8pm Mon-Thurs, and at 9pm on Friday.
To book a table go to The National Cafe website.
Find the cafe here:
A big thanks to all the lovely staff at the National Cafe, who looked after us so well, and to Love Pop Ups London for the opportunity.