The charity The RSA (its less than snappy full name is Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce) occupies a grand building just off the Strand. In its refurbished basement lurks a restaurant, in vaults that were originally designed as a river-front warehouse. Although mostly used by members, at lunch this restaurant is now open to the public, though there is still a formal check-in at the main reception where you have to sign in as a visitor. Profits from the restaurant support the charity.
The exposed brick arches and wooden floor of the dining room make for awkward acoustics, with quite a lot of noise echoing around the room even on this quiet lunch, with just five tables occupied. Tables are generously spaced and laid formally with white linen. The short menu is modern British in nature, and the lunch is priced at £27.25 for three courses (£22.95 for two). Chef Gordon McQueen originally trained as an army chef and most recently worked at the old Mansion House hotel in Dundee.
The short wine list is mostly under £35, and has choices such as Chapel Down Flint Dry NV at £28.40 for a wine that retails at about £9, Veuve Cliquot NV champagne £57.75 compared to a shop price of about £32, and South African Palesa Merlot 2008 at £20.40 for a wine you can pick up for about £7 in the high street. The bread was dull catering fare.
My confit of duck with Asian style vegetables spring rolls and sweet chilli dipping sauce was inoffensive, but the bamboo shoots and other vegetables were a token gesture and the chilli sauce appeared to be from a jar. The duck spring roll itself lacked seasoning, so was little more than some pretty low quality confit duck in filo pastry (0/10).
My main course was chicken stuffed with black pudding and a white bean and pancetta cassoulet. The chicken was cooked properly, though the meat itself had little flavour, the black pudding was surprisingly bland, while the cassoulet was decent but could have done with its beans a little softer and with more bacon flavour (0/10).
Lemon drizzle cake with vanilla cream was pleasant, the cake a little dry but still tasting of lemon, while the vanilla cream could have done with more vanilla flavour (1/10). The only coffee available was from a cafetiere, and was uninspired, though at least at £1.65 was not exorbitant.
Overall, I found this meal rather disappointing. The vaults venue sounds promising, but little has been done to make the space interesting. The food itself had no serious technical flaws, but was very ordinary in standard, and as a general observation lacked seasoning, though it was perfectly edible. The main issue is that the price charged here is more than the lunch at several Michelin-starred restaurants in the capital, making this poor value for money. If you are looking for a quiet business lunch then the unusual setting may appeal, but from a culinary viewpoint there is much better to be had nearby for the price.