I do like a bit of Art with my food - and if those Jenny Saville nudes stuck to my fridge with magnets don't deter me from eating - nothing will.
However, it's nice to enjoy a bit of culture outside the privacy of your own home - particularly if you can buy a souvenir postcard on the way out. Forget the Louise Bourgeoise sculptures and the impressive dimensions of the turbine hall - as I was leaving the Tate Modern the other day, the chap behind me on the escalator said to his friend: that shop will be really awesome when they get it together. Culture as a Matisse mug with matching coaster - throw in a glass of wine, a designer sandwich, a room with a view overlooking St. Paul's and the Thames. and you've got the whole Tate experience. No wonder on the first day it drew a bigger crowd than the opening of the Millennium Dome. Here, the only queue is for the restaurant.
Despite a no booking policy, the 7th floor restaurant still seems unable to cope with the crowds. We waited for thirty minutes in a queue of theme park proportions, only to eat in a room that was never more than two thirds full.
The view may be spectacular, but the food less so - think school dinners who've married up but retained their self-service canteen roots. And if you're sitting on the wrong side of the scenic riverside, think airport canteen - ie lofty but not particularly interesting. It's very airy in a severe sort of way - black chairs, black tables, black walls and dark grey staff - like getting lost in Habitat in 1985 and never finding your way out to pastels ever again.
Gallery restaurants are enjoying something of a renaissance as destinations in their own right and since they reward that foot-dragging corpse-on-your-back torpor that eventually afflicts even the most energetic art lover, this is welcome. After all that trooping around, boot faced, saying how interesting everything is, when you sit down to eat you want enthusiasm.
But it's not currently on show upstairs at the Tate. I had a soggy shepherds pie with a so-called cheddar crust and roasted vegetables - both limp enough to be suffering from performance anxiety. It was unevenly warmed and I asked the manager if it had been microwaved. No, he said in the tired voice of a man wanted to be a concert pianist and has ended up selling electric organs. I've been having so many complaints about the shepherd's pie - I'm going to take it off, he sighed.
The haddock, though generous and well cooked, had that jagged stegosaurus batter which must terrify anyone with a soft palate, and the mushy peas were cold. The husband had a mozzarella, tomato and tapenade wrap - a good sandwich but not improved by the glass of wine I spilt over it which no one offered to mop up. The accompanying salad was workmanlike with a pool of pinenuts nestling at the bottom of the bowl the way biscuit crumbs do in bed and the ginger and rhubarb crumble had a scant covering of uncooked shortening.
Over at the National Portrait Gallery - the food is immeasurable better - a proper restaurant, albeit one run as a business not as an art. The gallery, I admit, is a place I never quite got the point off - all those different painting styles hung cheek by jowl linked by nothing more than chronology in common - it's like a sort of 2D Madame Tussauds.
Ooooh that's a nice one of John Major, said one viewer, as though he was looking at holiday snaps.
Upstairs, the scene is more Mary Poppins through a letterbox than that of the Tate Modern's wide open sky. There's a panoramic postcard window with a view of Nelson's rear and all of glorious tourist destination London in one go.
I started with grilled leeks with a soft boiled egg and Husband had the goats cheese fritter. Apart from the perplexing hard yolk in the soft boiled egg, the only complaint would be of lack of imagination rather than quality.
My main course was halibut with mussels, herbs and mashed potatoes which was fantastic - the fish flavourful and meaty, and the mash like stuff you buy in a jar to smooth your complexion, though I fear this does something altogether different to the body.
Husband had very rare tuna steak with salsa verde. Otherwise they offer a good selection of basic dishes, well done and nothing too outrageously fancy to frighten away the earnest shuffling ladies in pristine white trainers who seem to arrive in pairs from Middle America. Puddings were also good - particularly the honey and lemon cake with delciously surprising rosemary ice cream.
However, if you do tire of the view and spot the often-dead personality in the gallery - you can loiter by the kitchen instead. The chef Kirwan is a babe with body art of the serpent-coiled tattooed bicep variety, who really brings out the Kathleen Turner in me.
Though that's not /quite/italics the way husband describes it.