I love going to the theatre; live theatre is one of the most exciting forms of art and for me, little can beat the experience of being at a really excellent play. It was a love instilled in me from birth for I spent the first two years of my life living in London’s Theatreland, literally breathing in all that theatrical atmosphere and perhaps even meeting some of the famous actors who would come into my parents’ pub. Later, in my teens and still at school, West End theatre visits were frequent. My favourite uncle Joe ran the Green Man & French Horn pub in St Martin’s Lane for many years and he’d often ring offering tickets to plays and shows he’d been given. He knew many of the theatre managers and luckily quite a few tickets were passed to his niece and I’d invite school friends to come with me. Now, I no longer have such fine connections but I do pay to be a Priority Member at the National Theatre so that I have the chance to book new productions early and I go regularly. Last night, however, it was a last-minute invitation from Annie to go with her to see Dara, which I hadn’t booked for, that took me into central London. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t book it myself but in the event it was really nice to go with Annie and we enjoyed the play a lot. It was Annie who suggested eating at the Terrace Restaurant beforehand. I’d eaten there recently – before seeing the brilliant Ralph Fiennes in Man and Superman – and agreed it was a good idea.
The National Theatre has been undergoing major refurbishment and rebuilding over the last two to three years and it’s all change in many parts. The Cottlesloe Theatre has become the Dorfman Theatre; the shop has moved and the restaurants have undergone a makeover. The Terrace Cafe has become the Terrace Restaurant, suggesting some refinement, but in all honesty, it’s not very different and the small plates menu has been on offer for a while. I used to go to the Terrace in its café form a lot many years ago. It is of course wonderfully convenient. You can even hear the announcements for when the plays are about to begin so there’s no worry about negotiating a way along busy pavements from another restaurant further away; it’s literally a short walk down some stairs – especially if you’re going to the Lyttleton Theatre, as we did last night. I stopped going to the café a few years back because it went through a bad spell and the convenience wasn’t enough to compensate for indifferent food. But with the recent refurbishments, I thought I should give it another try and was pleasantly surprised by the improvements when I saw Man and Superman, hence going back last night.
The service is excellent from the beginning. I was immediately asked which play I was seeing – Man and Superman begins at 7.00 while Dara didn’t start until 7.30. It can be very annoying to be in another restaurant not geared up to a fast turnaround. At the Terrace, that’s almost their raison d’être! And they rise to the demands. Water was brought straight away, menus laid before us. Our order was taken quickly. We chose some wine. Most came in half carafes, which is great. The menu suggests three plates per person but I remembered from my last visit that we hadn’t had that much. We decided to choose two each, which we would share, and we could always add more. I wanted to have the Gnocchi, Parmesan, Squash, Chestnut, Rocket & Garlic Pesto that I’d had on my previous visit, remembering how good it was.
It was last night too: gorgeous flavours and really delicious. We also chose a red pepper and potato frittata with a goats’ cheese dressing.
This was OK but not particularly exciting and I didn’t like the dressing much. There was some delicious pork tacos though, which we enjoyed a lot and were wonderfully spicy.
We both left eating the Courgette Salad, Lemon Dressing, Bocconcini & Red Chilli until last.
The fresh and clean-tasting salad was an excellent way to end the meal. Two plates each hadn’t perhaps been quite enough … except that it left room for an indulgence of some dessert. With still plenty of time until the play started, we ordered the Chef’s Pudding Selection for Two with some coffee.
Wow! We were seriously impressed by this – and a chef did actually put it before us! There were some wonderful mouthfuls here: a rich sticky toffee pudding, a gorgeous orange and almond cake, a plum tart on a cake base, ice cream, little meringues, whipped cream and a fabulous gingery crumble scattering. It was slightly weird that although it was a plate ‘for two’ there were some threes or singles of choices. But that didn’t stop us cutting some in half and sharing. It was a really great way to end the meal. Suddenly time had flown, the start of our play was being announced. Payment was swift – the service didn’t falter – and we made our way down the stairs and straight to our seats.
I’m glad I’ve rediscovered the Terrace Restaurant. It’s just right for a pre-theatre meal at the National. The small plates work well. I don’t really want a large and heavy meal before two or more hours of theatre and the Terrace Restaurants offers a wide range of dishes to choose from and it’s always nice to share.