Artists have always delighted in food. The Dutch Masters painted still lifes of tumbled fruit and succulent oysters. Qing Dynasty carvers conjured up jadeite cabbages and pork belly made from jasper. The Impressionists favoured subjects such as blurred apples and picnics on the grass.
Go looking for actual food that is good in museums, though, and you're often in for disappointment, particularly in Australia. Cultural institutions, after all, can tend to farm out their catering to the sorts of firms that supply office parties.
Wily travellers learn to avoid museum quiches and cling-filmed fruit platters, eaten in dismal basements that smell of cloakroom coats. But that is changing, as it should.
After all, the people who enjoy travel and art also appreciate good food. At Hero in Melbourne's ACMI you can enjoy great Italian nosh from chef Karen Martini, while the new rooftop Library Bar at the State Library of NSW offers wine and grazing against a Royal Botanic Gardens and harbour backdrop.
Overseas, at Oleum in Barcelona's National Museum of Catalonian Art you can tuck into chicken stuffed with mushroom and truffle in opulent surrounds. At Nerua in the Guggenheim Bilbao, contemporary Basque dishes confirm that cooking is an art.
Oleum is one of six Michelin-starred eateries in museums, and a host of other cultural venues now have excellent restaurants, cafes or bars, often in light-flooded or view-gazing locations.
So tuck into Traveller's guide to the art of the food around the world where you can be simultaneously stimulated and sated.
RIJKSMUSEUM, AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
Photo: Erik Smits
THE MAIN EVENT Best known for its superb collection of Dutch Masters – you'll see one famous painting after another – but also showcasing furniture, silverware, ceramics and Asian art, often exhibited in interesting juxtapositions.
THE MAIN COURSE At the Michelin-starred RIJKS Restaurant, big windows, high ceilings and an outlook onto a terrace and kitchen garden bring a breezy atmosphere as Joris Bijdendijk celebrates contemporary Dutch cuisine in inventive, well-balanced ways.
Photo: Erik Smits
TELL ME MORE Dishes especially celebrate vegetables with the likes of beetroot mille-feuille, and artichoke with egg yolk and herring roe. A seven-course tasting menu features sea-bass tartare and pork ribs.
ONE MORE THING When fresh air calls, hit Rijksmuseum's formal gardens with flower beds, water features, topiaries and sculptures. Play areas are a release-value for kids.
SERPENTINE GALLERIES, LONDON, UK
Photo: Elle Pickering/Elle Captures
THE MAIN EVENT These leading spaces for contemporary art house ever-changing exhibitions by top artists such as Andy Warhol or Damien Hirst. A temporary summer pavilion is designed by a world-leading architect annually.
THE MAIN COURSE The Magazine is worth it just for its light-flooded Zaha Hadid architecture; trademark white curves and lopsided columns look as if they're made of cake batter. Very cool.
TELL ME MORE The radically climate-aware a menu is clever, unusual and shows you can eat well while saving the planet. Slow-roasted cauliflower is unctuous with date molasses; poached apple with crumble and salted caramel brings a satisfying finish.
ONE MORE THING The galleries sit in Kensington Gardens (royalparks.org.uk), which feature Italian and Dutch gardens, glorious English borders and a giant Henry Moore sculpture.
ESSENTIALS Gallery open Tue-Sun 10am-6pm. Admission free, reservations required. Restaurant open Tue-Sun 10am-6:30pm. See serpentinegalleries.org
NATIONAL GALLERY OF SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE
THE MAIN EVENT Contemporary Singaporean and south-east Asian arts displayed in the monumental colonial-era Supreme Court and City Hall. A dozen bars and restaurants make this a favoured local gathering place.
THE MAIN COURSE Culinary queen Violet Oon runs National Kitchen, whose opulent decor marries French brasserie, Forbidden City and Straits design in a melding of dark wood, chandeliers, patterned tiles and potted plants.
TELL ME MORE The menu showcases upmarket Peranakan cuisine, peppered with Malay, Indonesian and Chinese influences in dishes such as tomato-rich fish-head curry, chicken in coconut, and dry laksa. Spice fiends will love the sambal beef cheeks.
ONE MORE THING Another National Gallery restaurant, Odette (odetterestaurant.com), has three Michelin stars and features dazzlingly plated French cuisine with elegant Japanese influences.
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK, US
THE MAIN EVENT MoMA crams in world-famous paintings from the likes of the Impressionists, Picasso, Rothko, Warhol and Pollock, plus eclectic contemporary pieces that challenge your notions of art – and life.
THE MAIN COURSE The Modern overlooks MoMA's sculpture garden and encases you in the same steel-and-glass architecture as the artworks. The adjacent, less-formal Bar Room is more convivial and focused on small plates.
TELL ME MORE The two-star Michelin tasting menu is wincingly expensive but art on a plate. It runs from white asparagus to seared scallops, salmon gnocchi and dry-aged duck before finishing with a trio of desserts.
ONE MORE THING The museum caters to kids with special audio guides, activity guides and a hands-on art lab. Sketching (with black pencil only) is allowed in the galleries.
MUSEUM OF CULTURES, BASEL, SWITZERLAND
THE MAIN EVENT This vast international ethnographical collection is one of Europe's best and gathers everything from Inuit coats to Guarani masks and Nigerian textiles. Quirky changing exhibitions focus on topics such as memory and animals.
THE MAIN COURSE Museum Bistro Rollerhof sits in a building first mentioned in 1355 and has rococo ceilings, a 17th-century arcaded courtyard and agreeable cobbled terrace.
TELL ME MORE Tapas and seafood in the evening, alongside a much-loved entrecote staple with Cafe de Paris sauce. Lunch is best for regional dishes such as Flammkuchen (Alsace's answer to
pizza), veal sausages with rosti, and spatzli or dumplings.
ONE MORE THING Basel Symphony Orchestra gives regular free weekend concerts in the courtyard; bring along a picnic and settle in over lunch.
ESSENTIALS Museum open Tue-Sun 10am-5pm. Admission CHF16 ($23). Bistro open Tues-Wed and Sun 10am-6pm, Thu-Sat 10am-10pm. See www.mkb.ch
MUSEUM OF APPLIED ARTS, VIENNA, AUSTRIA
THE MAIN EVENT Furniture, textiles, carpets, glass and porcelain trace Vienna's leading role in design over the centuries and provide gorgeousness wherever you look. The highlight might be the early-19th-century Biedermeier furnishings.
THE MAIN COURSE Cosy Salonplafond is a tavern reimagined in contemporary style and graced with Danish cutlery, designer chairs and wine-glass chandeliers. By day there are set lunches for a more mature crowd while by night the bar is lively with bright young things.
TELL ME MORE Classics at noon – bread salad, schnitzel, goulash, curd dumplings – and contemporary Austrian cuisine after dark, such as pearl-barley risotto, grilled salmon with miso, and hazelnut-crusted lamb.
ONE MORE THING Join an English-language tour on Sundays at 11am for a smart overview of design movements and the pinpointing of the collection's most important objects.
MUSEE JACQUEMART-ANDRE, PARIS, FRANCE
THE MAIN EVENT The family home of a 19th-century industrialist couple, graced with their top-notch collection of furniture, tapestries and artworks by Rubens, Watteau and Rembrandt. Compact enough to avoid exhaustion, and every room lavish and lovely.
THE MAIN COURSE Cafe Jacquemart-Andre inhabits the mansion's original dining room, which bursts with rococo plasterwork and pastel tapestries of prancing nymphs. In summer, sit on the elegant terrace overlooking the courtyard.
TELL ME MORE Light lunch dishes focus on inventive salads with goat's cheese, foie gras or Chinese-style chicken, but you'll really want to gorge on patisseries from legendary Stohrer, a firm that once supplied Louis XV's court.
ONE MORE THING The chic museum shop has great art coffee-table books and ornaments and fashion accessories inspired by the artworks, including beautiful sets of playing cards.
ESSENTIALS Museum open daily 10am-6pm. Admission 15 euros ($22). Café open Mon-Fri 11:45am-6pm, Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 11am-2:30pm. See www.musee-jacquemart-andre.com
ART GALLERY OF NSW, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
Photo: Ken Leanfore/Destination NSW
THE MAIN EVENT A great collection of Aboriginal, Australian and international art plus regular world-class exhibitions, though in rather gloomy surrounds. Admire Sidney Nolans, Arthur Boyds, Brett Whiteleys and much more.
THE MAIN COURSE Crafted by Matt Moran brings blue-sky views of Woolloomooloo and harbour glimpses beyond. The pared-down, informal décor – don't expect tablecloths – is conducive to brunches and lingering over another glass of chardonnay.
TELL ME MORE The brunch and lunch menus are light, deceptively simple and Mediterranean inspired. Think rock oysters, crab sliders and chargrilled octopus if you're after small plates. Roast trout or Aussie lamb rump are more hearty.
ONE MORE THING Gallery gloominess will be expelled by an all-glass $344 million extension in December 2022 which will double the gallery's exhibition area.
MUSEUM OF KYOTO, KYOTO, JAPAN
THE MAIN EVENT The long, splendid history and culture of Kyoto, condensed and presented through temple treasures, arts and crafts, paintings, film and special exhibitions.
THE MAIN COURSE A former Bank of Japan in elegant red-brick Western architecture from the Meiji period houses Maeda Coffee in its vault and courtyard. The local institution is much loved for its unassuming retro appeal.
TELL ME MORE The old-fashioned Western menu isn't haute yet it's a cultural experience in itself. Opt for the coffee – Ethiopian and Brazilian beans are roasted in house – and splendid cappuccino parfait, which blends biscotti, chiffon cake, black soybeans, coffee jelly and ice cream.
ONE MORE THING You'll also find Maeda Coffee at Kyoto National Museum (kyohaku.go.jp), Nijo Castle (nijo-jocastle.city.kyoto.lg.jp) and Kyoto International Manga Museum (kyotomm.jp), where manga sketches decorate the walls.
FIVE MORE TASTE TEMPTATIONS IN PUBLIC SPACES
THE FERRY TERMINAL
Tuck into the offerings of well-known Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio at La Mar on the water at San Francisco's Embarcadero, accompanied by a mighty good pisco sour or prickly-pear margarita. The star is ceviche and empanadas, but the hungry can enjoy the seafood risotto-like arroz la mar. See www.lamarsf.com
THE BOTANIC GARDENS
Innovative Bordeaux-born chef David Thien brings the bold flavours of Asian-French fusion cuisine to his multi-course menu at Corner House in Singapore Botanic Gardens. Expect the likes of pan-seared Hokkaido scallops, and chicken breast with Albufera sauce and foie gras. See www.cornerhouse.com.sg
THE TRAIN STATION
The Beaux Arts magnificence of the Gare de Lyon in Paris is nowhere better showcased than in Train Bleu restaurant, encrusted in stucco, gold leaf, bare-bummed cherubs and landscape murals. Dine on langoustines and stuffed rabbit, and finish with an old-fashioned, flame-licked crepe Suzette. See www.le-train-bleu.com
Wine Bar George in Orlando's Disney Springs has an excellent international wine menu. You have a rare chance to try super-expensive wines such as Mouton Rothschild by ordering by the ounce. Attentive staff recommend pairings with small plates such as charcuterie, grilled octopus or roasted beetroot with ricotta. See winebargeorge.com
The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck is found in Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai airports and many others across the US. It's industrial-chic and casual, with an emphasis on comfort foods rendered sophisticated by this US-based, Austrian-born and Michelin-starred chef. See www.wolfgangpuck.com