Director Nick Gilkinson (Anglo) and head chef Joe Fox (Petersham Nurseries) have come together to create a café and restaurant miles ahead of the usual gallery pit-stop offerings, right in line with east London’s food scene standards.
Nestled within the Whitechapel Gallery, Townsend is named after the Art Nouveau building’s architect, Charles Harrison Townsend. Tall, partially stained-glass windows look out onto the bustling street as commuters rush to neighbouring Aldgate East underground station but inside parquet floors, wood panels and understated mid-century styling create a sophisticated but serene space to sit and digest the latest gallery exhibition (currently Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium, until 10 May) over a glass of fine wine, or a three-course meal.
Townsend offers seasonal modern British dishes that are as comforting as they are inventive. The bacon scones with goat’s curd and wild garlic are a hearty, savoury interpretation that comes generously topped with soft white curd, while the fried Wensleydale with heather honey and smoked chilli sauce is the perfect combination of salty and sweet, and is as melt-in-your-mouth delicious as it looks. Everything here has had a lot of consideration put into how it is presented – the leafy celery with Devon Blue, roasted squash and pickled walnuts is a delicate pile of vibrant squash and green celery leaves, blue cheese, vinegary pickled walnuts and topped with shavings of natural walnut, and offers interesting layers of flavour as well as a damn pretty plate. The potato dumplings with potted brown shrimp and sea purslane are exactly the kind of thing you’d want to wolf down after a winter coastal walk – tangy, full of flavour and filling like only a potato can be. For a different but equally elevated tribute to the humble tuber, the Welsh potato cake with poached root vegetables and parsley sauce is fantastic, with delicious layers of slightly charred potato gleefully soaking up the ever-so-English parsley sauce. For a proper pudding to end things with, the spiced treacle and ginger cake is decadently sweet but offset perfectly by a scoop of miso ice cream, or for something lighter, the poached Yorkshire rhubarb with rosemary shortbread and clotted cream is a great choice.
The wine list has been lovingly curated by Gilkinson, with new additions secured the day of our visit. He talked Brummell through the options of wine by the glass and his passion was palpable (and recommendations excellent).
Snacks, three courses and wine for two, £80
This is a dining destination in its own right, but also a great spot for a post-gallery catch up over lunch or dinner. Come for the art, stay for the excellent wine list.
Townsend, Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX; whitechapelgallery.org/townsend