Lindsey Bennett doesn’t suffer from Ornithophobia... but might use it as an excuse to not come back
What a shame for The Royal Institution that reality TV show Desperate Scousewives wrapped in 2011 after one indelible season. For this ‘exclusive’ private members' club - in fact partially open to the public – feels very much the ‘third-space’ for those erstwhile local ‘models’, ‘businessmen’ and ‘journalists’, rather than a place of fermenting enterprise. And one so flamboyantly decorated that it would have been absolute catnip to the location manager. It’s also as likely to be around for just one year.
But much in the spirit of a Victorian expedition mapping the Amazon for outbreaks of malaria through bouts of rampant diarrhoea and hostile locals, we soldiered on...
The Royal Institution, like its London namesake, was once the meeting place for Victorian gentry involved in the sciences, arts, literature and all that Empire-building stuff, inaugurated in 1817 (just before Her Majesty ascended the throne). But this historic stone building, though located in one of the liveliest parts of the city, does feel a little irrelevant. Just at the wrong end of Colquitt Street, just a touch too far away from the hustle of Bold Street and the evening carnage of Slater and Seel Streets.
Equally irrelevant today is the £250 annual membership fee, which we swerve by nipping in on a weekday lunchtime.
The interior is probably the best thing about this place. Inspired by/lifted from the pages of Aubedon’s classic Birds of America (published when the original RI was flourishing), the entrance hall is striking, with a flamingo filling the entirety of one wall. It’s a very well done room indeed, with an island table, large tropical flower displays and the feeling of a place where you could drop your keys and bag before drifting into other rooms.
But there's only one place to drift to, once you’ve checked out the loos, and that's the bar (two smaller rooms were closed to us, one of which may have been Whisky Business - an independent wine and spirit merchant) past more and more and more birds. Avoid if you’ve an avian aversion.
The (very Victorian) overabundance of pictures, velvet and darkness makes the bar so nest-like that in summer it will surely feel claustrophobic. Luckily its winter, though we find the seats far too close together for a proper private conversation. Speaking of private, the toilets play TED talks on loop - surprising at first, grating thereafter - and are definitely big enough for groups of two or three to hang out. One feature that could work in their favour.
The website promises a ‘simply formed, seasonal changing food menu’ with ‘informality at its heart’ by Peel and Coconut. What we got was granola, soup, a sandwich and some cheese from the ‘kitchen’ - a dishwasher and shelf behind a velvet curtain. Well, they did say it was simple.
No matter how jovial and genuinely good company the bar man was, he couldn’t gloss over the fact that from this menu it was difficult to construct a meal to stand up to all the wines and cocktails. Impossible even, especially before one of the thoughtfully constructed ‘whisk(e)y flights’ [sic] on offer. Better to get a square meal from somewhere else before proceeding.
But, much in the spirit of a Victorian expedition mapping the Amazon for outbreaks of malaria through bouts of rampant diarrhoea and hostile locals, we soldiered on...
Granola, £4.50; cheeseboard, £10.00; tomato and pepper soup, £5.00 and a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich (a steep £8.50) effectively represented about 50% of the ingredients in use and were washed down with a couple of glasses of very nice Petit Chablis (£7.00) and Malbec (£6.00).
Granola after 4pm is theoretically bad, but practically decent with its berry coconut accompaniment. The cheese, from Liverpool Cheese Co, is good, four of them nicely presented with truffle honey. The soup was light and refreshing, a little like a gazpacho. And although the German beer bread was all very nice thank you, the sandwich seemed a bit of a rip off.
There are no sweets on offer, despite promos marketing part of the space as a 'coffee lounge'. Shame.
In conclusion then, the alternative hypothesis is that by choosing a quiet time to visit the Royal Institution for reasons of food and pleasure, rather than business, made my experience underwhelming. The null hypothesis, however, is that the Royal Institution is just not that appealing a ‘first-class lounge’ (to quote the PR) and didn’t pique my curiosity significantly enough to return and investigate its nocturnal activity... should I even be granted an ‘exclusive’ membership.
The Royal Institution, 24 Cloquitt Street, L1 4DE
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Granola 6, soup 6, sandwich 6, cheeseboard 6
A highlight – but overcharged at the till
As dead as the original founders