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Our little black book of enchanting places

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Our top five gallery cafés

Posted in HEALTH + WELLBEING By Maggie O' Sullivan

My National Art Pass has just arrived. I can’t think why I haven’t had one before: it entitles me to 50 per cent off major exhibitions, plus free entry to hundreds of charging museums and galleries across the country. At £45, it may well turn out to be one of my best purchases of the year and I can spend what I save on tea and cakes in a gallery café. Here's where I'll be heading.National Portrait Gallery, London WC2  

So many gallery cafés are lacklustre affairs, hidden away in the bowels of the building, but not this one: the Portrait Restaurant is on the third floor and if you sit at the window, you can look straight out over Nelson’s Column, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye. It's a great for afternoon tea (£27.50) though if you just want a cuppa, they send you down to the basement Portrait Café, which is rather gloomy by comparison.Fulham Palace, London SW6

Offering an equally splendid view is The Drawing Room Café in Fulham Palace. The palace, just by Putney Bridge, used to be the country retreat of the Bishops of London. The last bishop vacated the property in 1974 and the café is housed in what was once his drawing room overlooking the vast gardens. There’s a wide choice of pastries and baked goods plus homemade pasta, salads and sandwiches. The only downside is that the café closes at 4pm in winter so it’s better for morning coffee than afternoon tea. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter

RAMM is one of the country’s best regional museums, telling not just the story of Devon from prehistoric times but of global exploration and collecting in the 18th and 19th centuries. I have visited the museum, but not the Museum Café which, according to the ArtFund, serves: ‘hearty lunches and healthy snacks made with ingredients from Exeter and its environs, which are complemented with good-quality coffee and award-winning loose-leaf tea’. I can't wait to try it.The Foundling Museum, London WC1

The Foundling Museum stands on the site of the original, 18th-century Foundling Hospital which was not only the UK’s first children’s charity, but also its first art gallery (the leading artists of the day were encouraged by Hogarth to donate work while Handel donated an organ). It’s one of my favourite London museums so I’d be well-disposed towards the café even if it lurked in the basement and served luke-warm instant. But it isn’t and it doesn’t: this is a bright, modern space, serving delicious hot meals, salads and pastries. Saatchi Gallery, London SW3

I visit the Gallery Mess Restaurant, Bar & Café next to the  the Saatchi Gallery on a fairly regular basis. It serves both lunch and dinner, but you can also drop by for a coffee and, if warm enough, sit at a table on the terrace outside – a much more relaxed option than the other outdoor restaurants on Duke of York Square. Service can be a little bit haphazard but, crucially, the coffee is good. 

BY MAGGIE O'SULLIVAN

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