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Lunch at The Wallace Collection

  is more than a mere Bagatelle, a delighted Clifford Mould discovered

The Swing, Jean-Honore FragonardIt was not that long ago when you could guarantee that the catering at places in Britain open to the public would be boring at best, an abomination at worst. The very term "catering outlet" signals the kind of dreary operation that's little better than a motorway café . But recently we've seen some serious improvements in this important sector - after all, it's where many tourists judge how serious we are about our food. Museums and art galleries have done much to bring better eating to enhance further the overall cultural experience. 

Earlier this week we paid a long overdue visit to the Wallace Collection, arguably London's most beautiful art gallery.  The feast for the eyes (and the intellect, thanks to a most enthusiastic and scholarly guide), was admirably complemented by a feast for the palate. The modestly named Café Bagatelle serves a serious gastronomic luncheon in the most attractive surroundings. It's located in a spacious courtyard in the centre of the palatial townhouse, covered by a glass atrium roof. We were fortunate in that it was a cloudless winter day, and the atmosphere, under the glass, was positively Mediterranean. Palms, urns and statuary added to the ambience.

I noticed approvingly that the Salade Nicoise was made with freshly grilled tuna, but chose the Tian of crab. It was light and fresh, perfect as a lunch-time starter, with its light purée of avocado, slices of pomello (a kind of grapefruit) and pomegranate seeds to give some kick. A galette, carefully fashioned from millefeuille pastry enclosed some really tasty goat's cheese, set off with rocket leaves and a touch of red onion. This was an excellent start. For those with robuster appetites, the duck rillettes with a prune and Armagnac confit sounded very tempting. We treated ourselves to a glass each of the House Champagne from JP Roger. It's worth every penny of £6.95 - having very developed, toasty and complex flavours.

Main courses are very substantial for a lunch menu. What a pity Bagatelle is not open in the evening as well. I bet the room would be stunning with suitable lighting. Two dishes that I agonised over, I will give in full so you get the picture: Five spice marinated duck breast, flageolet bean purée, cherry and plum compote, port wine jus, and Confit lamb, pomme fondant, wild mushrooms, tarragon lamb jus. As I said, this is foodie cooking, without a doubt!.

The lighter, perhaps more suitable lunch dishes that we finally plumped for were both deftly executed. I'm so glad we didn't overlook the Swiss chard pastilla. It was made with over a dozen layers of filo pastry, as crisp as you could wish for. Alongside was a cylinder of roasted winter vegetables and a tangy pesto made from watercress. I immediately rushed out to buy filo pastry, but at home later, I had to use spinach, which made my pastry end up a bit soggy on the bottom! If you like fish, try the steamed black bream. It's about as good as it gets - the fish was tender and picked up delicate overtones from the garnish of ginger and spring onions. It came served in a deep soup bowl with a delicious clear fish bouillon. I mopped up the plate with some of the excellent bread, and instructed the waiter to show it to the chef. Minutes later a talented young man, known only to me as Shaun, came out to explain some of his dishes.   By now you'll have picked up on the touches of fashionable fusion. But they were subtle and delicate, and seemed a wholly appropriate match for the main ingredient.   

He left us discreetly so that we could get on with puddings. Probably a good move on his part, as I'd have challenged him on the naming of the "Lavender infused brulée chocolate box". I was expecting a lavender flavoured creme brulée in a little box made of chocolate. Instead was a round box cunningly made out of a soft biscuit, with a wickedly dense chocolate filling without a brulée topping. It was really very good, but needed a more accurate description. My guest could not be persuaded to try the apple tart with toffee calvados sauce, or the Blackberry Bavois (sic). But her trio of sorbets were vibrantly coloured with fresh and intense flavours to match.  

I can't recommend this whole experience enough. The service under the direction of Marcello Soares (ex Club Gascon) was charming and efficient. If you work in the area, or are shopping in Oxford Street, or even Bond Street, pop into the Wallace and revel in a Rembrandt, view a Watteau, refresh your inner man at Café Bagatelle and then, on the way out, goggle at a Gainsborough. It's truly life enhancing!

The cost of your meal: Starters £5.95 - £7.95, Mains £10.95 - £13.50, Puddings £5 -£6 House wine from £3.75 a glass, or £14.75 a bottle, or a Domaine bottled Crozes-Hermitage 2000 costs £24.00

Café Bagatelle at The Wallace Collection   - Dine Online Highly Recommended
Manchester Square, W1 
Tel: 7563 9500

PS They do wonderful afternoon teas, from £6.95!
Clifford Mould January 2004

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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