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Words: Abigail Blasi
It’s a surprise to find a restaurant tucked into a back room of the Royal Academy.
But this is no ordinary room: the ceilings are so dizzyingly tall that you have to crane to look up at them. Somewhere in the stratosphere is an icing-sugar stucco ceiling painted in rose-tinted terracotta and old gold.
I exclaim, imaginatively, ‘they’re so… so… high!’. The waiter tells me, sounding equally thrilled, that the ceilings are the same height in the kitchen. Opened as part of the 250-year-anniversary of the RA last year, and styled by architect David Chipperfield, the Senate Room has a nod to modernity too, with mushroom-grey moulded chairs and the walls painted an expensive-looking, soothing warm grey.
Chef Stephen Beadle is formerly of the River Café, and the menu centres on fresh Italian ingredients. We start with bellinis, one with pomegranate, my companion’s with tangy blood orange, brought to us in delicate stemless glasses. To accompany them are some tiny crostini topped with chicken liver, stracciatella, and mushroom. Asked which of the toppings we prefer, we puzzle, as if asked to select our favourite child. The stracciatelli is the creamiest of cheeses – the filling from inside a burrata. The chicken liver is simple and hearty, and the chicory is bitter and flavourful, almost spicy. But if we had to choose, we both agree, it’s the mushroom, rich, complex, truffle-like.
To start we have a salad of rocket and parmesan, which is one of the dishes that’s perfectly good, but not more than the sum of its (good) ingredients. Scallop carpaccio is delectably subtle, paired with pink grapefruit and rocket, though I find it a bit fishy. ‘But they are fishy, aren’t they, scallops?’ Points out my companion.
But then it’s a wham bam of highlights: we have burrata, plump, round and another explosion of cream, accompanied by crispy fried artichoke. The pasta is likewise stupendous. Yolky-golden ravioli parcels filled with pumpkin, ricotta, topped by fresh sage. It’s saltily stupendous, firm, soft: everything pasta should be.
Bollita arrives, a bowl of autumnal colours, deep pink, a puddle of lentils, celery, dark golden orange carrot, pickle, horseradish, but taste-wise it knocks it out of the park: satisfying, with the kick of the horseradish. We share it, but it’s something of a battle to get my portion.
Dessert is another triumph, with ‘chocolate salami’, two rich, dark slices, one round, one oblong, studded with nuts instead of fat, and topped with cream.
Altogether, it’s a find: if you’re on the hunt for somewhere different to eat near Piccadilly, the Senate Room has a rare serenity, and there’s more here than lunch: afternoon teas are created by author of the Italian Baker, Melissa Forti, and in the evening the lights lower, the cocktail menu ramps it up, and there’s free aperitivo (the Italian tradition of early-evening snacks) to accompany cocktails. Bellissimo.
6 Burlington Gardens
Tel: 020 7300 5912