Somerset House, Lancaster Place, The Strand, London, WC2R 1LA, United Kingdom

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According to Tolstoy (in Anna Karenina), spring is the “time of plans and projects”.  This particular Spring is the latest kitchen project of Skye Gyngell, which opened in October 2014 in the grandeur that is Somerset House. Ms Gyngell was previously the opening head chef of Petersham Nurseries from 2004, gaining it a Michelin star in 2011 but then publicly described the award as a “curse”, leaving the restaurant in 2012. She trained at La Varenne in Paris and also at The Dorchester when Anton Mossiman was running the kitchens there. Ms Gyngell was apparently cooking at this particular service.

The 18th Century building Somerset House is a vast space that houses the Courtauld Gallery and until recently was home to HM Customs & Excise. Spring is in the New Wing, in the northwest corner of the complex. The main dining room can seat 120 and is large and airy, with a high ceiling and windows looking out over to the courtyard. There is also a tree-adorned smaller room that can be hired as a private dining room. This is linked to the main room but can be curtained off if used for a private party. Overall, Spring has a very attractive dining space.

The menu had starters from £11.50 to £14.50, main courses from £26 to £34 and desserts £8. There was a cheap lunch menu at £29.50, but it seemed almost deliberately unappealing, with nettle risotto as the only starter and ice cream for dessert, as if the management was saying: “Don’t even think of ordering the bargain lunch, you cheapskates.” The day before I had enjoyed a £35 menu at two Michelin star Hibiscus, including amuse-bouche, petit fours and coffee, by way of comparison. 

The wine list had around 75 labels, ranging in price from £27 to £480 with a median price of £55. Example bottles were Kumea River Chardonnay Estate 2009 at £57 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £18, Palladius Eben Sadie 2011 at £89 compared to a retail price of £35, up to Lafon Mersault Genevrieres 2010 at £480 for a wine that will set you back £203 in a shop. Markups were around three times the retail price on average, which is normal for London.

The bread was made from scratch in the kitchen; although porridge bread does not sound very appealing, this tasted pretty much like regular sourdough bread and had excellent flavour and a particularly good crust (16/20). My starter was ravioli of potato and porcini with sage butter. The pasta was well made, its texture good; the filling tasted a lot more of potato than porcini, but the sage was a nice additional flavour note (14/20).

Guinea fowl was carefully cooked with crisp skin, served with tomato and beetroot puree and unannounced spinach. The bird was fine but the beetroot flavour completely dominated the dish, and had a slightly odd hint of sweetness (13/20 at best). Better was a pear tart with orange blossom and Sauternes ice cream. The pastry was good, there was plenty of pear flavour and the ice cream went well with the tart (14/20).

The service was capable, with a very friendly Romanian waiter serving me. I rarely comment on the outfits worn by waiting staff, but these were something else. The men wore striped shorts and trousers rolled up at the bottom, looking like a 1950s idea of sailors on shore leave. The waitresses had bizarre smocks of assorted colours, my waitress’s grey one resembling a monk’s habit. It looked as if the entire waiting staff had got lost on the way to a fancy dress party. Apparently these outfits were not a practical joke but the deliberate intention of an expensive designer, which explains why I know nothing about fashion. 

The bill came to £62 with just tap water to drink; if you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill would come to around £90 a head. I suppose by the rarefied standards of London restaurant bills these days this was not the worst, but it still felt pretty hefty for what was appearing on the plate. The cooking is relatively simple and enjoyable, but other than the bread the dishes did not really, well, spring to life. Still, the restaurant is drawing customers in for now and the place was busy on this weekday lunch.  


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