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.