Called “One of the finest small museums in the world,” The Courtauld Gallery has one of the most important and best-loved collections of European paintings and drawings in Britain, displayed in the elegant 18th century setting of Somerset House in Central London. The Courtauld’s collection ranges from the Renaissance to the 20th century and includes a world-famous group of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings with masterpieces by Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin, amongst others.
John suggested we come here as an added treat before our “Third Day of Christmas” dinner at Tom Aikens Restaurant in Chelsea, and while I admit that I had not heard of it before, John has wanted to visit The Courtauld for decades, literally. Best known for its outstanding collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, drawings and prints, the Courtauld Gallery is easy to reach by public transport from central London rail stations. We chose however to stroll from Waterloo station across Waterloo Bridge and the short distance up The Strand to Somerset House. The view of the Thames and its bustling activity got us in the mood for our visit to this delightful museum and its amazing collection.
As we gazed at pieces from the Renaissance to the 20th century adorning the galleries over three floors, we took great delight at recognising so many works of art and actually seeing them in the flesh, as it were. The gallery is a manageable size so that all the collections can be perused in something over an hour without rushing around, and of course much longer if one is so inclined. While the Courtauld was not crowded, we were delighted to see so many visitors supporting the arts.
After our visit we stopped at The Café for a warming cup of coffee. Had we not been en route for a two Michelin star meal at Tom Aikens we would have succumbed to the enticing cakes on offer, all homemade in the kitchen at The Courtauld Gallery Café. In their honour (and a sensible amount of time after digesting our glorious Tom Aikens meal) I have made a Thermomix carrot cake for your pleasure. But you will have to wait for a later post to virtually taste it, so watch this space!
Upon leaving The Courtauld Gallery we hopped on a bus across town to do a spot of shopping. I spied the most amazing arcades on our way and so we hopped off the bus for a bit of what the French call “licking shop windows” or “lèche-vitrine.” Piccadilly Arcade and the surrounding streets house an eclectic mix of shops of all sorts, running from world-renowned brand flagship stores to small, independent, highly specialised shops.
Our next stop was the ever-delightful food hall at Fortnum and Mason, a veritable treasure trove of gourmet delights both savoury and sweet. Because we were going to be inside for the rest of the day and evening with no refrigeration possibilities, we were obliged to resist the manifold temptations calling out to us like so many Sirens and walk out of Fortnum and Mason empty handed. Believe me, this was a first!
Only a bit farther down the road our resolve was destroyed as we passed a golden grotto filled with Ladurée macarons. Having tasted these this summer and having made my own, there was no choice but to buy a small but expensive box of almond-flavoured heaven. I agreed to carry this precious cargo and yes, Dear Reader, it made it home in one piece!
Night was falling and we still had not reached Chelsea and our target destination of the evening, Tom Aikens Restaurant. Despite my achin’ feet (sorry about the pun) we decided to walk the rest of the way, through some of London’s most impressive neighbourhoods.
Upon our arrival at the restaurant we indulged in a well-deserved glass of Champagne before indulging in Chef Tom’s fabulous Tasting Menu. More about that in my next post. Oh yes, and I changed into some comfortable shoes!