London: Architectural Spaces in Which to Eat
Written for USA Today's 10Best - Source Article
London is enjoying an explosion of extraordinary restaurants. And as a bonus, the capital city is chock full of grand spaces often dramatically converted and transformed by architects sympathetically combining traditional and modern.
Galvin La Chapelle
Sometimes eating can be a near-religious experience. This is no more so than at Galvin La Chapelle in Spitalfields, where the conversion of historic St. Botolph’s Parish Hall created a magnificent dining room with 100’ high original wood-trussed ceilings, tall arched windows, and robust granite columns. Architectural studio designLSM successfully styled an understated restaurant interior to subtly enhance the magic of the existing cathedral-like space. A bonus for patrons: the food earned a Michelin star just one year after the restaurant debuted.
St. Pancras International Railway Station
Labeled “Cathedral of Railway Stations” for its romantic Victorian architecture, St. Pancras International offers a multitude of grand dining opportunities. Sipping bubbles from the tiny Searcys Champagne Bar on the Eurostar platform is heavenly beneath a celestial glass roof. But in the adjacent 1873 Midland Grand Hotel are three glorious dining spaces: The Booking Office and The Gilbert Scott Restaurant, and the often-overlooked Gilbert Scott Bar with ornately painted ceilings and marvelous bell chandeliers.
Occupying the prestigious showroom of the former Wolseley Motor Car Company, The Wolseley is self-described as a “café-restaurant in the grand European tradition.” Its opulent interior was restored with the help of David Collins Studio prior to its 2003 reopening. Black and white marble floors, tall arched windows, grand stairways, dangling chandeliers and high vaulted ceilings supported by sophisticated black-lacquered Doric columns all combine to make The Wolseley the most glamorous eating experience in London.
Oblix Restaurant and Bar
In every great city, tall buildings offer the opportunity of 360-degree views, although often for a price. London’s recently competed tallest building, The Shard, designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, offers a stop at the Oblix Restaurant and Bar. Your time here will be spent drinking in the most magnificent views offered in the City of London. Renowned architect Claudio Silvestrin has created a stylish dining experience that appropriately serves as a subtle setting to the splendor of the city beyond.
Caravan - Granary Building
For the very latest in trendy restaurants, check out Caravan, located in the historic Granary Building - refreshingly converted by architects Stanton Williams and is also the new home of world-famous Central Saint Martins School of Design. Caravan’s expansive interior is a simply furnished majestic warehouse but the real draw is the alfresco dining. In the shadow of the massive Victorian façade the urban piazza is London’s new public space for gathering and people watching.
Windsor Castle Pub
No list of architecturally pleasing restaurants would be complete without a selection from London’s multitude of historic Public Houses. Off the beaten track and hidden behind Westminster Cathedral, Windsor Castle Pub (formally known as The Cardinal) has been recently restored to its former glory. Wooden partitions, extensive etched glass, parquet floors, high ceilings with traditional tin panels and lots of brass make this a very striking traditional pub. 23 Francis Street, Victoria, London SW1P 1DN, UK.
The Black Friars Pub
In sharp contrast - and a favorite of architects - is The Black Friars Pub, built on the site of a 13th Century Dominican Priory. A familiar landmark to Londoners, this pub’s entry is marked by a larger-than-life statue of a jolly friar who welcomes all. Inside, patrons find extravagant interiors uniquely completed in the Art Nouveau Style. Similar to an overly ornate cathedral, the pub’s walls and ceilings are adorned with green, red and cream marble and abundant reliefs of merry, busy monks.
Victoria and Albert Museum Café
In 2006, architectural firm MUMA revamped the Victoria and Albert Museum Café at the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. A striking modern serving area links the three original “refreshment rooms” named after famous British designers. It’s difficult to choose a seat in the lavish Morris, Poynter and Gamble Rooms, all showcasing the best in British modern design and craftsmanship of the Victorian era, or in the peaceful stylish John Madejski Garden courtyard.
Konditor and Cook Bespoke Bakery and Café
Konditor and Cook Bespoke Bakery and Café occupies a double height space in the base of architect Norman Foster’s landmark Swiss Re building (affectionately dubbed “the Gherkin” for its pickle-like shape). A hanging, irregularly shaped steel mezzanine cradles Konditor and Cook’s kitchen, which dramatically cantilevers over the retail space below it. Jamie Fobert, architect of the café, was adamant that his modern insertion neither interrupted the space nor subtracted from the significance of the building’s curves and fashioned an attractive functional café for K&C’s legendary cakes and savories.
The glamorous Café Royal Hotel recently reopened following restoration by modernist architect David Chipperfield. A meticulous visual balance between old and new, the hotel offers a selection of restaurants and bars - either exquisitely restored or agreeably modern. The Grill Room (est.1865) extravagantly returned to its original Louis XVI detailing while The Café, practically carved of golden Sienna marble, is reminiscent of a traditional European café but with a minimalist approach appropriate to the 21st century. 68 Regent Street, London W1B 4DY, UK.
Joyce Owens FAIA RIBA