Oh I know, I should have known better.

When you have a captive audience (hungry, footsore gallery goers) then there’s probably not too much incentive to provide a great dining experience at the in-house cafe. Other than Cafe Vue at Heide Museum of Modern Art and some international examples (notably Tate Modern and Musee d’Orsay) I can’t think of many art galleries that are also worthwhile food destinations.

Which leads us to The Tea Room at NGV International. The gallery has a high-end restaurant Persimmon and a sandwiches-and-drinks option in the Gallery Kitchen and The Tea Room provides the mid-range experience – a pleasant sit-down setting with views over the water wall, table serviceĀ  and a predictable middle-of-the-road menu of hot dishes (soup, quiche, pies, that sort of thing) and afternoon tea.

After being seated I was left to my own devices for a bit before I managed to get to the counter to ask for a menu and then gesturing for someone to take my order. Being in a little bit of a hurry I decided to go for four crustless sandwiches ($10) from which you have four options of fillings – chicken mayonnaise, smoked salmon with dill creme fraiche and cucumber, roast vegetables with pesto and egg with watercress mayonnaise. I figured that sandwiches shouldn’t take too long to make and when I spied some of the other plates coming out of the kitchen I realised that they were probably pre-made anyway.

After quite a long wait my sandwiches appeared. The sad ensemable were curiously pressed into roly-poly shapes and not particularly exciting in flavour, though acceptable. The portion was fairly small so I decided to try some of the cakes which were very prettily arranged in the glass cake cabinet. Given The Tea Room specialised in high tea I was hoping that their pastries would be better than their savouries.

When it finally arrived (how long does it take to slice a piece of cake?) the cheesecake ($7) was again fairly pedestrian – not fantastic but not terrible. It did fill the hunger gap though.

There were a total of two waitstaff and two other people who seemed to be managers serving customers. The Tea Room is not that big and I would have expected four staff to be adequate but the service was very slow. I noticed other tables around me also frequently had to gesture for attention to place orders or make requests.

While I always enjoy visiting NGV I think next time I’d prefer to BYO lunch and eat it in the sculpture garden.

The Tea Room, Level 1 NGV International +61 3 8620 2431

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