2/15/2013 05:50:00 PM

Best Thing We Are: British Food at the Garden Cafe

Cherry trifle; photo: Rob Shelley
Forget those clichés about English cooking. Cathal Armstrong’s new Britannia menu at the National Gallery of Art’s Garden Café gives British food a good name. Themed to the exhibition, “Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848-1900,” the offerings from chef/restaurateur Armstrong (Eve, Eamonn’s- A Dublin Chipper, Majestic, Society Fair and Virtue Feed and Grain) put a modern and seasonal spin on its classics.
The serene cafe, with tables surrounding a fountain, is a lovely spot to dine alone or with friends. The full menu is available on the buffet ($20.75). You could assemble the traditional pub plowman’s lunch from the Stilton and cheddar cheese, rustic bread and fig jam and an array of salads. English peas, with mint and pearl onions, dressed with malt vinaigrette, tastes like springtime on a plate. English breakfast radishes adds crisp tang to the garden salad, enriched with hard cooked eggs.Turnips and carrots are featured in another cold dish. There’s also a chewy (in a good way) barley and root vegetable salad.

But there are hearty entrees on the buffet as well (also, available a la carte). Individual Cornish pasties have a rich, flaky crust, and a savory beef and vegetable filling. Bubble and squeak, another English classic, sounds intriguing, and we’ve often wondered how it would taste. Here, well-browned, artisan-crafted pork sausages are served in a casserole with braised cabbage and potatoes. There’s a nice contrast between the crisp crust of the meat, and soft, flavorful cabbage and potatoes.

We have to confess that the cherry, sherry trifle dessert stole our heart. After all that food, we meant to just take a taste. But one spoonful mixing the delicious macerated cherries, the sherry-soaked sponge cake, the smooth custard and the decadent whipped cream, led to another, and another. It took a lot of will power not to go back for a second dessert (202-712-7454).

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