At one time, the museum café was full of sad turkey sandwiches and mediocre pizza and didn’t produce all that much excitement. But there’s a change afoot—outstanding cuisine is now on offer at some of the world’s top museums. In fact, just this year, famed chef Massimo Bottura opened a 50-seat restaurant inside the newly opened Gucci Garden in Florence, Italy. Soon, first-rate food might be as expected as the bag-check counter inside museums.
Chef Julien Royer doesn’t rely on a captive audience of tourists to fill the seats at Odette, his superlative French restaurant inside the National Gallery in Singapore. As one of the city’s most sought-after tables, it fields reservations from both locals and visitors alike. With stunning dishes like Japanese abalone and foie gras simmered in smoked-eel dashi flavored with yuzu, the restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars in 2016 after only 1 year in business.
Other notable museum restaurants act as extensions of the exhibitions. At Sweet Home Café in the highly anticipated National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C., eaters delve deeper into culinary history while also enjoying an excellent meal. Dishes like Gulf shrimp and stone-ground grits with smoked tomato butter, caramelized leeks, and crispy tasso earned it recognition as a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant. Across the country, in California, chef Corey Lee’s In Situ, housed inside the renovated San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, received its first Michelin star last year. The menu is a curated selection of signature dishes from famous chefs around the world, like dill-brined cabbage with wasabi emulsion, stout vinegar, and black truffle mushroom from chef Simon Rogan in England’s Lake District. Lee selected these items with as much care as the curators chose the museum’s artworks.
As more museum restaurants receive recognition, it’s likely that chefs and restaurateurs will continue to seek out further collaborations. For now, here are nine museum restaurants whose menus almost overshadow the exhibitions themselves.