The Van Gogh exhibition had our art critic tossing around words like ‘breathtaking’ and ‘mesmerising’. And we want to see for ourselves but also, crucially, we want to gorge ourselves on almond cake and absinthe ice cream.
Here comes The Rex Whistler Restaurant, swooping in to save the day with their new Van Gogh-inspired tasting menu. It comes in a ‘reduced’ length (but still quite long) set lunch of three courses, intended to pay homage to his vivid colour schemes and Dutch heritage.
Both boxes duly ticked. It’s a mass of colours, and darkness: yellow flowers, blue sauces, black waffles, and vivid plating. Riffs on influences in Van Gogh’s life come thick, fast and accessible to the person who, like us, only knows the bare minimum about Vincent: sunflower seeds crusting the halibut, a truly Dutch amount of pickled fish, bright blue smears of absinthe paint edging the almond tart. Textures rub up against each other in riotous, expansive ways. Herring is served silky and damp against the chew of the charcoal waffle and the furred sage leaves; halibut studded with sunflower seed-crunch sits on an emerald risotto laced with squid and potato, part-springy, part-giving.
There’s even beer created for the exhibition in collaboration with Siren Brewery. A lactose-infused IPA, it’s a stretch to spot the connection to Vincent, but it’s citrusy and coconutty and good in its own right.
The same’s true of the menu overall: it’s interesting and compelling, irrespective of the Van Gogh tie-in. But it is, fundamentally, very, very nice to eat charcoal waffles and jewel-coloured risotto and smugly consider yourself a patron of the arts for doing so.
We did this in the wrong order, though. It should’ve been exhibition first, food second. For one thing, the lunch is… substantial. And the matched drinks are alluring. Your art synapses will be firing on fuller cylinders for the exhibition if you aren’t stuffed with pickled herring and almond cake.
And for another thing, the exhibition’s one which merits talking about after, a lot. The Rex Whistler Restaurant’s a good place for that; somewhere you can raise a milky IPA or flinty white in a toast to Van Gogh’s outrageous talent, exuberance and sadness.
The Van Gogh menu runs till 11 August. Entrance to The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain and three course lunch menu is £53. The Rex Whistler Restaurant, Tate Britain Art Gallery, Milbank, SW1P 4JU.