Step into Spring
Where Waterloo Bridge meets the Strand by the Aldwych, stands the famous neoclassical Somerset House. The first palatial residence on this site and by this name was built in the 16th century by the Duke of Somerset, brother-in-law to King Henry VIII. Since then it has been home to several Royals and Queen Consorts, various important personages, different seats of learning, the Admiralty, the Army and many other governmental departments and offices. During its long history it has been rebuilt, had wings added and undergone many refurbishments, involving such luminaries of the architectural world as Inigo Jones, Sir Christopher Wren, Sir William Chambers and James Wyatt. Oliver Cromwell’s body lay here in state, Canaletto painted it twice and, latterly, it has featured in many films and music videos. In winter, the central courtyard is home to a popular open air ice rink and at other times, it is used as an open air concert venue, most notably the ‘Summer Series’ held in July. At the centre of the courtyard is a playful fountain of 55 vertical jets of water rising to random heights. In other words, it is a most impressive, elegantly beautiful building in the heart of London and, set on the River Thames, one of the city’s great sparkling jewels.
It is here, in this stunning location, that Australian born, French trained chef and food writer, Skye Gyngell, has set up her second London Restaurant, Spring. Well-known from the success of her first venture, Petersham Nurseries, in essence a bucolic restaurant in one of the glasshouses in an, albeit superior, garden centre on the edge of Richmond-upon-Thames, which, although impossibly difficult to find and set at the bottom of a muddy path leading to a riverside meadow, garnered a Michelin star on the back of her sublimely classy seasonal cooking. I mean, that’s saying something! Not many could achieve such an accolade cooking out of a garden shed! But Skye Gyngell can, and that tells you a lot about this woman’s culinary skills and imagination.
Long since moved on, and after much research, Somerset House, right in the centre of the Metropolis, offered the perfect setting for Gyngell’s talent. With her sister as the interior designer and her mother, an artist, providing the colour palette, everything about Spring speaks of freshness, awakening, lightness of touch and colour, and seems to be the perfect corporeal representation of Vivaldi’s ‘La Primavera’, allowing Gyngell the ideal backdrop for her elegant food. True, the large room has slight overtones of a dining hall but this is ingeniously ameliorated by the huge arched windows which flood the place with light, the warm ceiling lights reminiscent of bunches of white berries and the semi relief artwork on the walls, which look like fragile dandelion spores floating on a warm breeze. Instead of flowers, each pristine white-linened table sports a zesty yellow lemon on its stalk. Nice touch!
The seasonal menu is tightly curated with two pre-starter nibbles, six starters, six main courses, four desserts, two cheese courses and two sides. All sound thoroughly enticing with a pronounced presence of locally sourced fresh herbs and farm and garden produce.
It’s not easy to make a choice. It’s all so tempting! While we peruse and consider, we are served some simply gorgeous homebaked sourdough bread with a ball of very slightly salted creamy butter. It’s a good start!
We settle for a shared starter of Carpaccio of River Test Trout with Pickled Fennel, Horseradish and Dill. The thinly sliced fish, which is so fresh it might have been gambolling about in the River Test that very morning, the fennel and dill, all make for a burst of a taste sensation. I regret squeezing lime juice over my portion, because the added acidity takes away from the delicate taste of the trout. Still, it’s glorious.
Lovely Husband chooses the Grilled Lamb with Asparagus and Lovage Salsa Verde as a main course, I go for the Wild Sea Bass with Mussels, Wild Garlic and Cauliflower Puree. Here at Spring they do at least serve vegetables with the food, quite unusually these days in the smarter restaurants, but for us lovers of green crunchy food it’s just not quite enough. We’re offered the listed sides, Jersey Royals with Crème Fraiche and Herbs or Salad of Fern Verrow Leaves, but somehow we’re after something earthier, so they kindly provide steamed spinach for us and we’re happy.
The lamb is cooked just so and is tender and succulent and beautifully complemented by asparagus, broccoli, spinach and lovage. Lovely Husband looks ecstatic!
My wild sea bass comes covered by its shard of marvellously crusty skin, sweet creamy cauli puree, spinach and several juicy glistening mussels. Each and every mouthful is a complete joy.
The sommeliers are dressed in their usual black and white attire and ours has certainly given us an excellent recommendation. Our Pansa Blanca 2014 is crisp, very pale, light as a feather and definitely most quaffable. It is quite possibly the nicest wine I have had in a long while and I have had some jolly decent wines.
The waiters and one waitress, though, are dressed rather strangely. In their stripey marinière t-shirts of different colours with white waistcoats and white trousers, they all look like Marcel Marceau. Luckily, they provide very good service with a smile and don’t put on a mime show.
Our choice for a shared pudding is the interesting sounding Lemon and Gooseberry Shaker Tart with Crème Fraîche. It may not look like much on the plate, but it tastes absolutely wonderful, moist and crumbly and fruity all at the same time with the lovely cooling, creamy counterbalance of the crème fraîche and it leaves us wondering whether, just this once, we should go sinfully crazy and order another portion. Regretfully, we refrain, paragons of self-discipline that we are. (Not!) Our restraint is rewarded when, with our excellent Americano, we are served two candied orange strips, a small sugary farewell to a fabulous meal.
‘We hope to create an experience which not only sings on the plate but lingers in the memory’ says Spring’s website. Well, let me tell you, it has sung a most tuneful song and it certainly lingers fondly. I loved it! Spring has sprung with all its bounty, and here at the West Wing of Somerset House, it is set to stay!
This is the perfect venue for a special evening out, a romantic date night, perhaps, a gathering of good friends, or maybe a business lunch or dinner to impress associates. Spring has a pretty outdoor terrace for al fresco meals in the summer.
Not surprisingly, the bill carries a punch. We paid £149.06 including wine, coffee and service charge. Quality doesn’t come cheap.
What I wore
Pale cream high waisted, wide legged crepe de chine Joseph trousers, lavender Club Monaco Crepe de Chine top with slit sleeves with bows, purple Jimmy Choo high heeled sandals, cream vintage Gucci bag with bamboo handle.
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