October 23 2010
On the morning of July 23 a few years ago, the power went off across Marylebone in central London. I can be accurate about the date if not the exact year because my family had gathered to celebrate my mother’s birthday with brunch at Villandry on Great Portland Street. We’d placed our orders, received our orange juice and bread rolls when the electricity failed, striking a mortal blow to the kitchen. We left and wafted across to Marylebone High Street where burglar alarms screamed, cashiers’ tills refused to open and cars sat in a miserable gridlock due to failed traffic lights.
We drifted to the Wallace Collection in nearby Manchester Square. This museum of 18th-century paintings, furniture and porcelain housed in the historic Hertford House was mercifully unaffected by the shutdown. It was – and remains – an oasis of tranquillity at the heart of the frantic city. The Wallace Collection also houses one of the best-kept secrets in the area: a glamorous courtyard restaurant set beneath a glazed atrium ceiling. In the past few years this has been restored with the restaurant run independently by Oliver Peyton’s catering firm Peyton and Walsh.
On my mother’s birthday we tucked into a hearty breakfast and ate bathed in sunlight flooding down through the glass ceiling and reflecting off the atrium’s pale-pink walls.
Since then I have returned to the Wallace Collection on numerous occasions, mostly loaded down with shopping and longing for afternoon tea (£12.50). It comes with a selection of finger sandwiches, homemade scones with clotted cream and Peyton and Byrne preserves. Excellent brasserie lunches are also available here as well as dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The Wallace Collection restaurant is the ideal place in which to recharge before heading back out into the West End’s hectic thoroughfares. Who knows: this weekend I might even get around to checking out the old master paintings by Hals, Rembrandt, Rubens, Velázquez and Van Dyck.