The idea of placing a fine restaurant inside a museum is an exciting approach to gastronomy. Cooking—just as art— incorporates elements of culture, creativity, knowledge and talent. The presence of haute cuisine in such distinguished environments is increasingly common because tasting a dish created with refinement and wit is akin to viewing a painting by Kandinsky or a Giacometti sculpture.
With this premise in mind, we set out to find the best museum restaurants around the world. A fine example is Combal Zero (successfully directed by the renowned chef Davide Scabin), located inside Rivoli Castle, which houses the Museum of Contemporary Art in Turin, Italy, a city known for its excellent cuisine. Another museum restaurant worth mentioning is Nerua inside Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum in Northern Spain, under the direction of the young chef Josean Alija, who, in 2011, received the Prix du Chef de L’Avenir by the International Academy of French Gastronomy.
But there are other successful examples of the marriage of art and gastronomy:
Combal Zero Restaurant
Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporáneo (Turin, Italy)
This contemporary art museum houses an outstanding permanent collection and hosts a wide range of cultural activities. One of its main attractions is Combal Zero, the restaurant run by Chef Davide Scabin, a culinary genius whose dishes are conceived as genuine works of art.
Scabin is unanimously considered one of the most perceptive explorers of gastronomic research. He is the creator and predecessor of the modern current Art & Design Food, which encodes all the essential factors, from decoration and flavor profiles to the rhythm of cooking time to deliver superb service. His unsurpassed attention to detail makes extraordinarily beautiful dishes that rival the artworks exhibited in the museum’s galleries.
Combal Zero attracts guests from around the world with elaborate confections that whet the appetite with enticing shapes, textures and temperatures. Considered one of the most exciting restaurants in the world, it boasts prestigious gastronomic awards, as well as two stars from the Michelin Guide.
The Restaurant at the Hermitage Museum
State Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia)
St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum is undoubtedly one of the best art palaces in the world. Its legendary art collection is displayed in a complex of six buildings located on the banks of the Neva river. Its rooms hold more than three million pieces, ranging from Roman and Greek antiquities to paintings and sculptures from Western Europe. Its copious permanent collection is considered one of the most comprehensive in the world.
The Hermitage Restaurant, located within its premises, has recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, since it was opened to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city of St. Petersburg. Its large dining and private rooms, crystal chandeliers, fine crockery, cutlery, glassware and linen tablecloths will delight the most discerning guests.
The exclusive Hermitage Restaurant attracts the city’s burgeoning upper class as well as thousands of tourists who visit the museum every month. It offers high quality Russian cuisine, with a smart touch of creativity using the finest ingredients such as caviar, lobster and the famous blinis.
Not to be missed are the exquisite starters (zakuski), accompanied by a good Russian vodka, or better still, a good French champagne, a drink Russians love with passion.
Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain)
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, designed by the world famous architect Frank Gehry, is a space that inspires everyone who visits with impressive exhibitions and a large permanent collection.
Nerua Restaurant, located inside the Museum, stands out for its unique take on haute cuisine. It is managed by one of Spain’s most creative gastronomic teams, led by Executive Chef Josean Alija.
Alija began his professional career when he was only 17 years old, under the tutelage of great contemporary catering masters, and has been able to cultivate his own avant-garde and personal style with such success that the world-renowned French chef Paul Bocuse considers it a master of the new kitchen.
The Chef is fond of challenges, and his aim is to surprise diners using the essence and products of the land. He has been recognized with multiple awards, including the Prize to the Best Young Chef in 2000, best International Chef by Identitá Golose in 2009 and, in 2010, the Conceptual Innovation Award. In 2011, he received his first star in the Michelin Guide and Three Suns in the Repsol Guide.
Les Ombres Restaurant
Quai Branly Museum (Paris, France)
On the banks of the river Seine, we found a wonderful museum that takes visitors on a journey through the world’s ancient civilizations. It also houses an important research center and a restaurant called Les Ombres, designed by the architect Jean Nouvel, who also created the museum.
The restaurant is nestled in the heart of the museum´s lush garden on a rooftop terrace, with panoramic views of Paris, in the shadow of its neighbor, the Eiffel Tower.
The celebrated chef Jean-François Oyón is in charge of charming Parisian and international gourmands with seductive gastronomic innovations.
In keeping with the cultural atmosphere of the museum, the kitchen of Les Ombres offers the best cuisine from each continent. Oyón´s proposal merges perfectly with the spirit of the multiculturalism without losing its identity, allowing space for new flavors that appeal to a modern audience with a touch of avant-garde originality from this culinary master. ■