16″ West

A couple of months ago the Sammy Ofer Wing of the NMM was opened to much hoo-ha. I’ve refrained thus far from making any serious judgement on the museum itself as I just can’t believe ‘that’s it’ – empty space, ‘virtual’ objects and a single gallery of big-hitters dominated by a giant white block. The excellent Ocean Liners exhibition has been turned into a massive gift store, the whole of the former front closed off – there just has to be more than this. The boast in the first cabinet of the greatest-hits room claims over 2 million objects. When I was there the mutter around me was definitely of the ‘well let’s see some of them then…’ variety.

And my postbag’s reflected it. Pretty much everyone thinks the actual building is really good, but WestCliffGB sums it up when he says “beautiful, but not really, really working.’ As a museum it’s a great cafe, restaurant and gift shop.

But now I see there is a new gallery –  Traders: the East India Company and Asia – which I haven’t got to yet (I think it’s opened, but can’t be sure) so I have renewed hope that we’ll start to see some actual objects rather than massive open spaces with nowt going on in them.

So it’s about time I mentioned what is working – and working really well. The cafe downstairs is excellent, with friendly staff, good coffee and nice snacks. I’ve not dared have any of the fabulous-looking cakes, but the juices especially are fresh, tasty and actually pretty cheap compared with other places.

It gets a bit nutty in the afternoons – unsurprising, really, given the proximity to the park – and my only complaint is not actually with the cafe itself but with whatever idiot thought of creating a groovy water feature at kiddie-height that is forbidden to kiddies.

Don’t these people know that children are drawn to water like looters to Footlocker, especially toddle-deep moving water? There are now big stripy bands across the top and bottom to prevent paddling (as though that’s going to stop it…) which I’m sure the architect didn’t have in mind for the minimalist look of the thing, but I place any blame firmly at said architect’s feet.

Oh, bloody hell, I’ve gone off on one again and I haven’t even mentioned the subject of today’s post yet. Central Greenwich’s secret restaurant, 16″ West. It’s upstairs from the cafe and I suspect it’s going to suffer from the basic problem that you have to know it’s there, which is a shame since it’s becoming one of my favourites.

I actually visited for lunch on their very first day, but I was keen to go in the evening too, to see what the difference would be, so it’s taken until now to get round to it.

It’s in one of those big glass rooms just above the entrance hall, which means that you have to walk up the slope from King William Walk. At night this feels slightly ‘naughty’, as though you’re getting to go somewhere you shouldn’t normally be, though if you’re hoping for a quick sneaky at the three and a half exhibits actually on view forget it; it’s a dead-end, I’ve tried. So have sundry gaggles of teenagers who, periodically, during the meal mooch past the benighted upper level, only to mooch back again ten minutes later.

As it’s got glass walls you might expect a fabulous view of the park, and, during the day, you get a nice bit of green but not really a ‘view’ as such – not least because it’s set back, so there’s a three-foot concrete wall in the way. I suspect that this might improve in the winter when the trees shed and we’ll get glimpses of vista, though of course it will get dark more quickly and once it’s dark all you get is yourself reflected in the glass anyway.

As regulars readers will know, I’m no fan of minimalism in restaurants. 16″ West gets the benefit of the doubt because it’s a modern building which might look a bit weird if they added much plush to it (though personally I’d have given it a go…big white swags of gauze over the windows at night might make it feel a bit more homely) but all the same I could have done with a nice crisp tablecloth given the prices they’re charging – during the day I’m fine with the canteen feel; at night I want a bit of luxury.

But herewith ends the carping. Both times I’ve eaten here have been an absolute joy – the food has been excellent, but, even better, the service is fabulous. Friendly, solicitous and keen to please without being obsequious.

The potted Severn & Wye hot-smoked salmon with Irish soda bread is worth ordering just for the bread – the best I’ve tasted, though I confess to being greedy and shameless enough to ask for more when the tiny amount supplied ran out (doesn’t matter where I go there never seems to be enough bread supplied with pate – something I don’t get – surely it’s the cheapest bit of the dish?) I was looking forward to ordering it a second time when I came again, but word had got round and they’d run out, so I had the fishcakes instead, which were pretty good too. My pal’s plate of charcuterie was wolfed down.

For mains, there’s a big old list of various things, all of which are sustainably and Britishly sourced, listed under ‘From the Farm,’ (meat)  ’From England’s Coastline,’ (fish and seafood) ‘From the Field’ (vegetarian.) Between us we had, on sundry occasions, the Lamb burger, Steak, Gnocchi and Sea bass, of which the lamb burger went down best, but all were enjoyable. The sea bass was particularly tender.

I don’t normally eat puddings, but I was intrigued by the cheese, one of which I hadn’t heard of. I eat all cheeses (even that stuff from Blackheath Market that stinks out the entire Phantom household) but my friend doesn’t like soft varieties, so we asked about the one we hadn’t heard of (the Rosary Ash, in case you’re wondering). A nice, hard cheese, we were told. The other one was soft, so we agreed to have the standard selection between us. Both cheeses turned out to be soft, which at least meant my greed was further assuaged.

When I pointed this out to the waiter, not in a way that was complaining (I was fine, thank you very much, I had two cheeses to eat…), more to let him know that his ‘hard’ cheese was actually more like Brie,  he was all apologies and ran off to take money off the bill without being asked. Then he brought extra crackers for no real reason other than niceness.

The food at 16″ West is very good – one or two teething issues; nothing that probably hasn’t been fixed by now. But the service is excellent, it’s a real pleasure to eat here. It’s somewhere I can take friends and parents and I’d be happy to book it for a special occasions, too. I just hope people get used to remembering where the hell it is, tucked away and secret as it is.

10 Comments to “16″ West”

  1. Old China says:

    Oh wow, I’d never heard of this place. I’ll be making a bee line for here asap, ta for the heads up GP!

    I’ve been meaning to visit the Sammy Ofer wing for a while too, especially since they have a section on the East India Company now. By the by, the new East India Company shop on Conduit Street in Mayfair is worth a visit too. Friendly staff (they made me a fresh espresso to sip while I shopped) and exotic produce.

  2. Otter says:

    Lots of stuff in the East India Company section but it isn’t easy to follow the history and there is nothing about its presence in London. Even so, well worth seeing.

  3. paul t says:

    Heartily agree with both your points.

    For all that money, all we got is two eating places instead of one. But I was hugely impressed with 16 West, dropped in on impulse, and was likewise taken by the potted salmon, the Meantime beers, good wine at pretty reasonable prices, and fantastic staff, really helpful and easy on the eye – both boys and girls. The Old Brewery has gone down in quality a little recently – staff less interested – so it’s great to have an alternative.

    But it is an indictment of the current fashion for museums, where we have acres of white space, and a big shop, but so little to look at. One of the main pitches for the work was that there would be a big new library. Well, the one I saw was only marginally bigger than the old one. When it comes down to it, both kids and adults do visit a museum to see objects, not just wander around in white rooms.

  4. Paolo says:

    I went down to the NMM about a month ago.

    Had a nice lunch at 16 West (lamb burger v good) but felt the restaurant lacked a bit of character

    But the NMM itself was a massive, massive disappointment

    With the exception of the first room, there was barely anything to see

    The new wing is appalling. Great building but used for next to nothing, other than a cafe

    What exhibits there were seemed slap-dash and poorly explained.

    2 million items? where the hell are they then?

    I left utterly, bitterly disappointed by the NMM and not a little angry at such a waste

  5. Adrian says:

    Also thumbs up for 16″ West from me. Lovely staff, slightly disorganised at times which actually made them more endearing – a neat trick to pull off. I’m not quite as raving about the food (except for very good chips), but still more than happy to have a nice brasserie style option to choose from alongside the Union, Hill, Brewery etc.

  6. Nick says:

    We ate there last weekend (8th October). Our experience seems to have been at odds with all the comments here. Food was patchy at best and drinks orders were repeatedly mixed up.

    The positive side was they dealt with all our niggles or comments well and took money off the bill without prompting and even gave us freebies.

    We put it down to not having been open too long and will definitely go back. We’ve got so few good restaurants we have to keep encouraging those that are trying – do go!

  7. Mike says:

    We had dinner there on one of those balmy sumer evenings a few weeks ago. Thought it would be nice to sit outside on their balcony. And it was! The view on a snowy winters day should be amazing.
    I do have to disagree with the previous positive comments of the food. While it wasn’t bad, I would never describe it as good. Edible and not bad is probably as good as it gets there. It’s a place run by caterers, not restauranteurs.
    Bland burger in desperate need of some ingredients, olives that tasted bad (how hard are olives, they come in jars!!), olive oil to dip the bread in that had no colour or flavour (again, shouldn’t be difficult, it comes in a bottle). Passable potted salmon, but too much of it and not enough bread, seriously overcooked pork chop.
    The staff were friendly enough, but it wasn’t like they were overworked.
    The panacotta was nice though (but the biscuit base didn’t go very well with it we didn’t think).

    Overall, probably a really nice place to go for a drink, just don’t get the olives too.

  8. Sky says:

    While the cafe is nice, I feel the layout is very disorganised: if there’s a long queue it goes right past all the tables, which doesn’t make for a relaxing experience. I also can’t see why their drinks counter can’t sell a few pastries or biscuits – when I went, I just wanted a coffee and a muffin. There was a short queue for drinks, but in order to get a muffin I would have had to queue in the big lunch queue.

    As for the fountain, there was a complaint about that in Greenwich Time a few weeks back, with a reply from the Museum. Reading between the lines, I felt they don’t really mind kids playing in it as long as they’re properly supervised. For the first week or so there were no signs up and apparently parents just let their kids run wild in the water features, which can obviously get quite slippery. So unless you come across an overzealous guard, and as long as you use reasonable care, just let your kids play! You’re right though, architects rarely seem to think about how things work in practice, just about how nice they look on paper.

  9. paul t says:

    We went back to 16″ West for an evening meal, and were pretty disappointed; an uninspired menu with restricted fish choices. Duck dry and overcooked; insipid risotto; but an interesting wine list. Staff still impressive (Laura Heap seems to be working there?).

    I’d still recommend it for lunch, but rather like The Rivington, the bill comes close to somewhere like Sheekey’s, but not the experience. THey have a great location and interior, though, so I”d like to see them raise their game, Greenwich certainly needs it. And there needs to be something to show for all that money spent on the extension, bar more white space.

  10. mag e says:

    Had lunch here a couple of Fridays ago and felt place lacked atmosphere. Service pretty patchy and whilst food fairly good feel it overpriced. Better off to
    eat downstairs in the Museum Cafe. However, don’t want to be too negative. Nice to have another choice in Greenwich and not owned by same group as most of the places in Greenwich are!!!