x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The world's best art-related restaurants

With the opening of Fanr on Saadiyat Island, we look at some of the top art-related restaurants around the world.

Fanr restaurant in the Manarat al Saadiyat on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.
Fanr restaurant in the Manarat al Saadiyat on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi.

If food nourishes the body and art the soul, then it follows that encountered together the two should prove mutually beneficial. Penniless artists (Picasso and Matisse among them), who exchanged their work for food and hospitality would surely agree, as one imagines would the child who is propelled around a gallery by enthusiastic parents, sustained only by the promise of a slab of chocolate cake at the end.

Cafés and restaurants are ubiquitous in galleries and museums the world over, very much suggesting that a morning or afternoon spent pondering the often ethereal, creative endeavours of others leaves us in need of physical sustenance. In the past couple of decades, the quality of food served in these outlets has improved dramatically; no longer does a cultural outing need to be capped off with a snatched sandwich in a designated picnic area. Of course, this idea of gallery gastronomy works both ways. Many restaurants (from swanky, internationally renowned ones to those hidden away in neighbourhood corners) make a point of celebrating artists by displaying their work on the walls.

As excitement grows and plans for Saadiyat Island's cultural district progress (with the opening of a branch of the Louvre, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum among the most hotly anticipated), one of the latest development is the launch of Fanr, a restaurant conveniently located in the Manarat al Saadiyat.

Although still in the soft-opening stage, a visit there a few days ago suggested that the restaurant will be well-positioned to rejuvenate and restore visitors who feel themselves flagging after exploring the exhibitions. The decor is modern, without being too sparse, there's plenty of light thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows, and large vases provide splashes of colour on the mezzanine level. The general mood is serene, but far from clinical. Long wooden tables spill out into a pretty little courtyard shrouded in greenery and water features tinkle away in the background. It's all very consciously "designed", as you would expect, but it stops short of feeling overly stylised.

The menu is varied, with plenty of international dishes. There are breakfast items, various salads, an extensive list of sandwich options and larger main meals (fish and chips, lamb tagine, butter chicken). What's rather nice is that I got the impression that I was equally welcome to sit down for a quick restorative juice and a blueberry muffin, or return with a group of friends for a full-blown dinner.

This is a cheering thought, particularly for those who have come to associate a meal at a cultural venue with a watery coffee (courtesy of a self-service machine) and a plastic-wrapped sandwich lifted straight from the chiller section.

Nowadays, though, this really needn't be the case. Here is our pick of some of the best places where food and art collide with inspiring, rather than insipid, results.

Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Modern

The Modern is a restaurant that is capable of standing up to its location. Given that this award-winning, fine-dining spot is located in one of the world's most famous art museums, that is saying something. The chef Gabriel Kreuther's French-American cuisine is innovative and experimental; he is renowned for his unusual flavour pairings and for presenting dishes in a carefully constructed manner. Although his cooking is sometimes criticised for being overwrought, it could also be described as the embodiment of art on a plate. The restaurant itself is divided into two parts by a wall of frosted glass, and the more formal of the two dining areas affords impressive views of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden.

Whitechapel Gallery, The Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room

The Whitechapel Gallery was one of the first publicly funded galleries in London. As a long-standing part of the cultural landscape, the gallery is renowned for its involvement with local projects and for its exhibitions showcasing contemporary international art (the works of Picasso, Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko have all been displayed here).

Following a recent collaboration with the Michelin-starred chef Angela Hartnett, the reputation of the in-house restaurant is also growing. Hartnett oversees all aspects of the concise, highly seasonal menu which reportedly changes daily. The focus is on simple, homely dishes which showcase the best of British ingredients, often with an Italian slant. Choose from a selection of nibbles (olives, almonds, artisan bread), small plates (deep-fried whitebait with aioli, sprouting broccoli, roasted hazelnut and vinaigrette) or linger for a while longer over something more robust (côte de boeuf with balsamic shallots or lamb rump, salade Niçoise and basil jus). The restaurant itself is a small, classy space. By day it is filled with light and at night candles cast a lovely glow out on to the street and create a wonderfully welcoming ambience.

La Colombe d'Or

To this day, La Colombe d'Or is known as a restaurant for art lovers. This famous auberge, which is nestled in a hilltop town on the French Riviera is, according to legend, where impoverished modern masters such as Picasso, Miro, Matisse and Calder offered their work in exchange for bed and board. As a result, the owners boast a very impressive private collection. Guests continue to visit here in their droves. The food served at the restaurant is timeless and rustic, along the lines of freshly baked breads, pickled herring and foie gras salad and, in the summer, the walled courtyard shrouded in vines is said to be enchanting. True art aficionados cannot fail to be seduced by the chance to eat in the dining room, though: here they are able to enjoy their meal while seated in close proximity to an eclectic array of invaluable, original art.

Guggenheim Bilbao, Restaurante Guggenheim

In recent years, the Basque town of Bilbao has become an international hot spot, famed for its avant-garde architecture, art and food. This is due in no small part to the Guggenheim Bilbao, the stunning museum that boasts a wide range of modern and contemporary art. This landmark building was designed by Frank Ghery and is regarded as one of the most significant pieces of architecture of the past 30 years.

Not to be overshadowed, the Restaurante Guggenheim has its fair share of fans, too. Chef Josean Martínez Alija worked with Ferran Adrià at El Bulli well before the term "molecular gastronomy" made its way into the culinary mainstream. As you would expect, the food that he serves is highly technical. Alijà likes to play with textures, smells and aromas and is known for presenting dishes sparsely and without much adornment (sauces or garnishes). Anyone who dismisses his style as simplistic would be very much mistaken, as a quick glance through a menu featuring steamed black radish with "raw sheets" and dressing of wild herbs, confit endives, croquant leaves dressed with walnut and citrus fruits and fleshy grilled root with rustic bread soaked in a seafood jus, rather reaffirms.

Pompidou Centre, Restaurant Georges

The decor inside Restaurant Georges is nothing if not dramatic. The large aluminium structures dotted about the room are, in fact, pods containing tables; single red roses in sleek glass vases provide a stark contrast to the white furniture and the panoramic views of Paris, which stretch as far the Sacré-Coeur, are described as magical for good reason. The food (a mixture of Thai, Japanese and European-influenced dishes) is perfectly fine, but it is the chance to dine in such futuristic environs that proves to be the major draw.

Still, this is to be expected, given that the restaurant is located on the 6th floor of the Pompidou Centre. Despite being relatively new (it opened in 1977), the building has quickly become a landmark, famed for its external staircase, glass walls and brightly coloured exposed pipes. The building was designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rodgers with the intention of making art more accessible. Given the vast numbers of people who visit here to experience the various exhibitions, explore the National Museum of Modern Art or use the public library, there is little doubt that they have succeeded in their aim.

Palais de Tokyo, Tokyo Eat

There is nothing staid or traditional about this gallery. Palais de Tokyo is housed in an art deco building in Paris's 16th arrondissement that dates back to 1937 and was reopened in 2001 with the intention of showcasing experimental, cutting-edge art, be it conceptual, visual or performance. The gallery stays open late (until midnight on most days), features temporary exhibits rather than permanent collections and pledges to support new artists.

Tokyo Eat, the restaurant within the Palais de Tokyo, is informal, open all day and offers a keenly priced, seasonally influenced menu. Sample dishes include beef tartare with fries and rocket, tempura prawns with baby salad leaves, and scallop carpaccio with Puy lentils, lemon and olive oil. The decor, meanwhile, embraces the avant-garde mood of the rest of the gallery, with flying saucer-style dangling lamps, bare concrete walls and colourful chairs.