Major museums—and even boutique ones—are busy attracting star chefs to create culinary masterpieces as part of their overall mission. Museums want bragging rights not only for the latest Picasso or Damien Hirst exhibition but for their buzzworthy restaurants.
It also makes business sense. While the public might stand in line to see a coveted collection, rarely do they revisit after the initial outing. But food lovers will frequent a hot restaurant more than once. These beautifully designed culinary meccas attract larger audience of locals and travelers who may then stroll through the museum to view other exhibitions.
Galerie highlights ten institutions around the world that are not only great places to view art but to digest it too.
Chiswick, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Australian celebrity chef Matt Moran first opened his charming farm-to-table concept restaurant, Chiswick, in a gorgeous garden in the upmarket Sydney suburb of Woollahra. Recently, he’s opened a second outpost on the rooftop of the Art Gallery of New South Wales with views overlooking Sydney harbor.
The glass-walled space is furnished in minimalist Nordic style, while the kitchen—helmed by chef Laura Boratto—turns out modern-Australian fare accented with herbs from the onsite garden. Dishes include Kinkawooka mussels, pickled octopus with cucumber and kohlrabi, seared Core Bay barramundi with sweet corn and zucchini flower, and a slow-roasted Moran Family Lamb designed to be shared.
Ristorante Giacomo Arengario, Museo del Novecento, Milan
Situated on the third floor of the Museo del Novecento, a converted palazzo featuring a treasure trove of 20th-century Italian art, this Deco-detailed restaurant celebrates the avant-garde personality of its host museum. With sweeping views of the Duomo’s Gothic spires and the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle, the restaurant is an offshoot of the classic Tuscan trattoria Da Giacomo across town. Favorite dishes include octopus carpaccio with tomatoes, celery, and cream of cinnamon and papaya, fish ravioli, and pork filet with stalks of shimmering asparagus. There’s also a special Novecento Menu, offering creative interpretations of traditional Milanese fare. A regular gathering spot for Milan’s fashion and art crowd, the restaurant remains relatively undiscovered by tourists.
In Situ, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
When chef Corey Lee, awarded three Michelin stars for his restaurant Benu, was summoned to develop a restaurant at the newly expanded SFMOMA, he came up with the idea of translating the museum’s mission—exhibiting the best work by a diverse range of artists—to food. So he asked masters of the culinary world like Alice Waters, David Chang, and Thomas Keller to share signature dishes that would be offered on seasonally changing menus.
With some 80 plates on rotation, the concept was lauded by The New York Times for being America’s most original restaurant for avoiding originality. Expect dishes as far-ranging as Richard Ekkebus’s sea urchin in a lobster Jell-o with cauliflower, caviar, and crispy seaweed waffle from his famed Hong Kong restaurant Amber, Anthony Myint’s Apocalypse Burger from San Francisco’s Mission Street Food, and the Plogue à champlain with foie gras from Martin Picard’s Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal. The interior, by Aidlin Darling Design, is simple and modern—trim metal lighting, slab wood tables—allowing the food to star.
Café Sabarsky, Neue Galerie, New York
Conjuring Vienna at the turn of the last century, when the city was a leading hub of intellectual and artistic activity, Café Sabarsky is a glorious gem inside the Neue Galerie, which showcases works by Viennese masters like Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. You don’t need Sigmund Freud to analyze why this is such a desirable spot. The cozy dark-paneled room is outfitted with Josef Hoffmann lighting, tables and chairs by Adolf Loos, and banquettes upholstered in an Otto Wagner fabric. Considering Vienna was also the home of Mozart and Schubert, the ebony Grand piano is a nice touch and is used for regular cabaret performances. Michelin-starred chef Kurt Gutenbrunner serves up classics like Wiener Schnitzel and spaetzle and a variety of sausages to be enjoyed with one of the numerous Austrian wines on offer. Dessert is practically a requirement here, with beautifully crafted sachertorte, linzertorte, apfelstrudel and other sweets tantalizingly displayed in glass cake stands along one wall.
Flora Coffee and Flora Bar, The Met Breuer, New York
When the Metropolitan Museum of Art introduced its Madison Avenue outpost of modern and contemporary art in the former Whitney Museum, the Met's leadership decided the space could benefit from the addition of hip restaurant. Flora Coffee and Flora Bar are the creations of buzzy Uruguayan chef Ignacio Mattos and his restaurateur partner, Thomas Carter. Known for unfussy hotspots like Estela, Café Altro, and Paradiso, the duo set out to bring a slice of downtown cool to the Upper East Side. Flora Coffee serves light lunch fare and pastries, while Flora Bar—open for dinner, plus brunch on weekends—offers a seafood-heavy menu with specialties such as tuna tartare with potato and truffles and red shrimp with uni and nori. Located in the Brutalist landmark’s lower level, overlooking its concrete courtyard, Flora is minimally but warmly outfitted with an expansive marble bar, richly grained tables, dark leather banquettes, and custom-designed stools by Steven Bukowski.
Rijks, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Awarded a Michelin star in 2016, the two-year-old Rijks succeeds in spirit, ambiance, ambition and execution. Chef Joris Bjdendijk sources local flavors including “forgotten” herbs retrieved from Amsterdam’s glorious past to create dishes like puffed red beetroot, langoustine tail in tempura with curry cream, trout eggs and quinoa, scallop with mushroom bouillon. For a dash of creativity, guest chefs visit monthly. Designed by Paul Linse, who revamped Rotterdam’s Central Station, the restaurant features sleek and calming decor like soft grey suede chairs and contemporary steel light fixtures.
Cristal Room, Musée Baccarat, Paris
Pretty in pink. That would be the most apt description for this opulent neo-Rococo gem on the first floor of the Musée Baccarat, the crystal maker’s private museum in the 16th arrondissement. The restaurant is a popular destination for fashionable locals and tourists who want to clink crystal Champagne flutes in a sumptuous setting that was formerly the dining room of Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles, an important patron of the arts. Helmed by Michelin-starred chef Guy Martin, the restaurant serves refined seasonal French cuisine, ranging from tantalizing foie gras and grilled lamb with chutney to an array of exquisite desserts that complement the bubbly. The hand-blown vintage Baccarat chandeliers are offset by an exposed brick wall and contemporary metal furniture, creating a one-of-a-kind ambiance.
Esker Grove, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
It was a homecoming of sorts for Minnesota native Doug Flicker, the much-lauded chef whose restaurant Piccolo has been credited with energizing Twin Cities’ dining scene with his unpretentious, creative cooking. As part of the Walker Art Center’s recent revamp, Flicker’s Esker Grove replaced Wolfgang Puck’s Gather by D’Amico. The seasonally shifting menu focuses on local and regional growers. While lunch is casual with an array of rotisserie offerings and lighter vegetable dishes, dinner is elevated with dishes like chestnut soup, endive and faro salad, and lamb shoulder with honey glaze, apple purée, and wheat berries. The first-floor restaurant offers views of the spectacular Walker Sculpture Garden, currently being expanded, and there’s also a large al fresco dining patio for the summer months.
Cafe d’Art, Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
Located in a tranquil residential area away from central Tokyo’s bustle, the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art occupies a one-time private residence. Café d'Art, occupying a quaint courtyard garden, has an extensive lunch menu emphasizing seasonal produce. Among the highlights are the Image Cakes inspired by the exhibitions on view and can be considered miniature artworks in their own right. Past examples include desserts inspired by Frida Kahlo, Henry Darger, and Sophie Calle.
Òleum, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona
Soaring, arched windows in this sophisticated restaurant offer panoramic views of the Barcelona skyline, thanks to its perch atop Montjüic hill inside the Palau Nacional. The Mediterranean menu highlights Catalan-inspired cuisine, from an array of experimental tapas to such standout dishes as ray with saffron and green-tomato jam and a regional version of creme brûlée with red fruits. Òleum occupies the palace’s restored throne room, where the ornate stonework, frescoes, and other classical details are offset by crisp modern furnishings.