Friday, November 23, 2007

Hedgie's First Law of Croissants

The more difficult crumb-control, the better the pastry. So, if your black cashmere polo neck is festooned in golden crispy flakes, the pastry is very good indeed.

I am enjoying a quick pitstop in the V&A's new cafe, an ambitiously large space opened last November - fairly quietly, I think. I don't recall much press notice at the time.

This is possibly because the poor old V&A was the innocent victim of a grotesquely philistine ad campaign back in the benighted 80s – “An ace café with quite a nice museum attached”. Thatcherite values gazumped the Victorian ones that inspired the museum’s foundation, and suddenly it had to raise money – fast. Cafes and shops were the way forward. The museum is still trying to live this down.

But the truth is the café then was actually dire - a greasily pine-clad, unclean health-hazard situated beneath ground level. The corridor leading to it was dubbed ‘broccoli court’ by V&A staff in honour of the overwhelming smell of boiled brassica that thickly fogged the air.

The new café is a brilliant success. It has moved back to the three original Victorian café rooms – one of which was the first public commission of William Morris & Co. The whole cafe complex now forms the climax to a splendid axis through the centre of the museum: from entrance hall to shop to courtyard garden to café.

The Victorian café rooms are magnificently over the top but at the same time oddly and charmingly practical – Gamble designed his grandiose neo-baroque hall with ‘wipe clean’ tiles ceiling to floor.

For the refurb, the V&A has spread the café into the three galleries between the Victorian rooms and the courtyard – these have been renamed the garden rooms. The centre one serves the food; the two flanking rooms are cleanly minimalist (so restful after the Victorians): all slick lines, white stools and dove-grey banquettes. Gorgeous. The V&A commissioned McInnes Usher McKnight Architects for this project.

The coffee and pastries are excellent too (handled by Benugo), so for me the whole thing has definitely become a place to go in its own right, as well as being a stylish adjunct to a museum visit.

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