9. The V&A Cafe
The V&A shot itself in the foot some years ago when it ran its ‘ace caff with quite a nice museum attached’ poster campaign, especially when it turned out that the caff wasn’t very ace at all. All that space, all those uniquely fabulous rooms, all those visitors, yet the catering was bafflingly awful.
But things have changed, and nowadays it’s possible to break up a visit to the ace collections and to rest weary museum-legs in mind-bogglingly beautiful rooms with a decent cup of tea and a slice of fresh, well-made, interesting cake.
The catering has been taken over by Benugo, a company which hasn’t yet reached large empire proportions. It has created what is now almost an entire ‘eating wing’ and the service area has been transformed into a bright, airy, smart and modern-looking place with tasteful and tasty displays of temptingly good-looking cakes, scones, meringues, cookies and muffins (as well as plenty of healthy and savoury options).
Armed with your tray, you then take your pick and choose your room, because the real icing on the cakes at the V&A are the spectacular surroundings. Leave behind the modernised white area and plunge instead into the time-warp of the three beautifully maintained Victorian rooms. Choose from the rather dour, serious, but absolutely authentic Morris Room, the more cheery, blue-and-white tiled Poynter Room, or go for the all-out over-the-top Gamble Room in the middle which is like a glitteringly-lit Constantinople railway station waiting room whose every available surface is covered with decoration (see here).
The very English slices of loaf cake (Lemon Drizzle, Bramley Apple, Orange and Almond, all £2.20) might seem pale and bland by comparison to the decor, but they hit the cake spot. So too do the classic cakes (Coffee and Walnut, Victoria Sponge, Chocolate Fudge, all £3.50) and the various scones (£1.80) with nicely presented and chilled pats of butter and tiny bowls of clotted cream (extra cost). There are concessions to modern fashions with millionaire’s shortbread (£2.20) and Portuguese custard tarts (£1.80), but the V&A has always been a supremely eclectic place, so it’s good to see a similar approach to catering.
At last, there are plentyof good reasons for sitting down in the famous refreshments rooms, rather than just passing through them.
Cake: £2.20 - £3.50
London SW7 2RL
Tel: 020 7942 2000
Open: Sat to Thurs 10.00 – 17.15, Fridays 10.00 – 21.30 (closed 24, 25, 26 Dec)
And a bigger slice of culture: the V&A is across the road from the Natural History Museum and round the corner from the Science Museum. It's not far from the Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial, the Serpentine and Serpentine Gallery, Imperial College, and Kensington Palace.