The Wallace collection puts me in a tricky position. It was recommended to me by a friend who almost asked me not to blog about it because it is an undiscovered treasure. Having discovered it, I fell in love with it too, and debated whether my blogging might lose the Collection some of its undiscovered treasure status. And then I shook myself hard and told myself to get a grip, not least because my blog is something of an undiscovered treasure itself.
Picture the scene, if you will. In our last episode, I had accidentally signed up to do a half marathon in support of the British Heart Foundation. I was in shock. I was cold. I needed a nice refreshing cup of tea, sharpish. At first I decided to walk to Hatchards, but that’s quite a long way from Marble Arch, and checking out my faithful map app, I caught sight of the Wallace Collection, which was a great deal nearer. I stumbled in, and asked where the cafe was. Even in my weakened state, not even I could fail to miss the glorious stairwell, but I cheerfully stumbled past a great pile of beautiful French art and furniture in search of my hot beverage.
I glanced at my watch. It was lunchtime. I asked the waiter if I would be allowed to just drink tea during peak hours. He explained the deal. Half the restaurant is devoted to snacking. The other half does proper restaurant dining; I would be very welcome on the cafe side to drink my tea. And so it was. I ordered my pot of English breakfast, and then asked if it would be alright if I could have the apple pie (which was on the tea time menu, served from 2:30 onwards). The waiter smiled kindly, and said I could have whatever I wanted. I don’t know why, but I felt almost pitifully grateful as I sat in the glorious courtyard conservatory, defrosting quietly. The tea arrived in a prestigious metal teapot with a pleasing heft and the capacity to yield three cups of tea, and freshly warmed apple pie with vanilla laden ice cream. I finished off the bits and pieces to sign up to my half marathon, and set to building up my precious glycogen stores, just in case I should ever actually start running. I took my time, nobody rushed me, and I returned to feeling human.
Having recharged my batteries, I explored the main collection. It is astonishing. I truly don’t remember going around any museum where I have found myself drawing breath so frequently at quite so many beautiful things. Having been reprimanded or evicted so frequently due to taking photos in various museums, galleries or cultural venues of all kinds, I asked one of the museum staff whether I was allowed to take photos. “No flash,” he explained. I nearly hugged him, before taking photos of everything that would stay still long enough.
Wallace’s collection was his lifetime’s work, and he curated it with a fine eye and an open wallet. This is the home of the Laughing Cavalier and Madame Pompadour (which in my head means that I have been to see the fireplace in which Madame Pompadour saw Doctor Who for the first time).
The staff are pleasingly matter of fact about the fine art which surrounds them: they were happy to direct me to the Laughing Cavalier, and at the same time point out my pashmina was falling out of my bag. They cared, you see.
I have said before that, like Holly Golightly and Tiffany’s, there are one or two places where I really feel at home, where I could go should I ever get a case of the mean reds. One is a bookshop, one is the Apple Store, it turns out another still is the Wallace Collection. It never really occurred to me that my journey through the thousand things would find me another spiritual home, but so it has proved to be. Indeed, I liked it so much that I took the beloved there for his Valentines meal out. The three course meal cost more than a tenner, so I shouldn’t really mention it. The reason I do is that I arrived wild-eyed and strung out because spouse had met me 15 minutes late for our reservation. The lovely maitre d’ took one look at me, said that it was our evening, and we could turn up when we wanted, and suggested we try some champagne and relax. By coincidence the same lovely waiter with the twinkly eyes who served me apple pie served the spouse and I our valentine’s dinner. At the end of the meal, the maitre d’ mentioned that the lovely waiter had remembered me and that he’d been pleased to see the lovely apple pie lady again. I had recognised him at once, but it had simply never occurred to me that he would recognise me back. The fact he did just hammered home the reason I not only like the restaurant but the whole collection: it is one of those places which is so posh that it transcends poshness, and it ends up instead in a place where everyone is just made to feel welcome. Do go. Do enjoy it. And then don’t tell anybody else ;