Founded in 1753, the British Museum in London is a must-go for obvious reasons. Holding 150 million works within its permanent collection, which grows by 3 million artefacts every year, the British Museum documents the human culture, covering all continents from the beginnings of human history up to the present day. Not only are the contents world class: the architecture of the museum is also breath taking.
According to their facts, if you would see 5 items per day at the British Museum, it would take a person 80,000 years to see every single thing in their collection. As we do not have 80,000 years to live, it makes sense then that the average visitor like myself will attempt to cram as much as they can on a visit to the museum. As we immerse our minds within the richness of the collections, travelling through time and through different continents for a good amount of time, it is only natural that we would desperately need to recharge our brains with a vital source of energy: food!
Thankfully the museum is well equipped with a plentiful food options: within the museum they hold a restaurant, two food trucks and also cafés around the Great Court ground floor. It’s a perfect chance to recharge and to take a moment to breathe in the space around, to look up and soak in the spectacular rooftop above us.
At the heart of the museum, this iconic panoramic sight of the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court is the result of an architectural competition launched in 1997. The requirements were to “reveal hidden spaces, revising old spaces and creating new spaces”. Foster and Partners eventual won the competition; the building of the roof started in 1999, the lattice designed created by using 3,312 unique pieces of glass. The Great Court was then re-opened to the public in 2000, and no matter how many times you visit, the simple yet effective design still has that incredible wow-factor. The roof looks like a huge umbrella, wrapping up and covering the original and classical style buildings and the Reading room under its steel and glass wings. The large scale of the Court oddly makes you feel like you are outside, and yet you are sheltered.
Today we treat ourselves by visiting the museum’s Great Court Restaurant upstairs, where we can hope to feel the warm ambience of the natural light through the glass roof just a little bit nearer. The restaurant is not enclosed in a separate area, and so from above you can still feel the muted hum and buzz of the busy museum atmosphere around you. Despite still being inside the museum it feels like an open-air roof terrace. Following around one side of the Reading room, the shape of the restaurant is in line to the rounded edge of the walls, which also reflects the soft lines of the lattice roof.
The food served is classic European food, and interestingly the Museum also creates a separate set menu to coincide alongside some of their special exhibitions. At present “Sunken Cities” is being shown, an exhibition about the recovery of two lost cities of Ancient Egypt that had been submerged under water for over a thousand years. The exhibition menu is typically Mediterranean, with hints of Egyptian cuisine here and there; we chose the grilled tilapia, the falafel, a grilled aubergine and pepper, as well as a delicious puff pastry called ‘Umm Ali’, which is like an Egyptian bread pudding. The idea to link the food with the exhibition really enhances the museum visit, allowing visitors to experience the show with a fresh approach. The Sunken Cities exhibition will close this week, however with upcoming exhibitions ‘South Africa: the art of a nation’ and ‘The American Dream: pop to the present’ both opening in spring 2017, we will have something to look forward to.
Don’t forget: the British museum is open until late every Friday evenings, which allows the restaurant to also remain open to dinner. This is the only day that they are open for their dinner service, and I must say compared with most restaurants on a Friday evening the Great Court restaurant atmosphere is calm and peaceful, a perfect place to wind down the week past.