Skye Gyngell makes a fresh start at Somerset House with dishes showcasing pure, simple flavours. James Stagg reports
Entering Spring in the New Wing at London's Somerset House is much like arriving at a spa. Guests are welcomed at a reception by staff in smocks and loose trousers, speaking in soothing tones, and are led into a grand, ornate room, flooded with light.
Formerly a tax office within the neoclassical Somerset House, the high-ceilinged, 100-cover restaurant is far grander than its former incarnation, punctuated by pillars and chandeliers
hanging like bunches of spherical flowers.
The overall effect is one of calm, elegance and femininity, providing a sanctuary from the bustle of London's busy Strand. It certainly represents something of a departure for chef Skye Gyngell, who spent eight years cooking at Richmond's Petersham Nurseries, earning a Michelin star in 2011 before leaving in 2012, citing the pressures of satisfying guests with
expectations raised by the accolade.
"Our agent had to convince me to view the site at Somerset House because I was a little sceptical about the location at first," Gyngell explains. "But upon entering the room I fell in love with the site because of its gorgeous natural light. I had a bit of a moment when we first visited what was then a very dreary space as this stunning shard of light was streaming through one of the arches and I instantly knew that we could transform it into something truly beautiful."
"I always aim to source locally and we are very fortunate to have such high-quality produce from all over the UK at our disposal," Gyngell says. "This includes organic beef and rare-breed pork from Wales and biodynamic fruit and vegetables from Herefordshire.
Our coffee is from Allpress Espresso Coffee Roasters in east London and our tisanes are from Postcard Teas." The staff, she explains, are deliberately dressed to emphasise the comfortable and stylish nature of the restaurant, with striped tops and loose white trousers for the men and white smocks for women. "We love the uniforms and feel that they bring a whimsical adolescence to the room without drawing too much attention," Gyngell says.
The menu can change daily, depending on the produce available. A set lunch menu is available, offering two courses for £25.50 and three courses for £29.50, while the Á la carte includes six options each for starter, main and dessert. All of the dishes are presented simply and concisely on the menu, much like the food served on the plate. Ravioli of potato and porcini with sage butter is an unfussy yet perfectly executed starter, the mushroom left to shine in a pillow of fresh pasta sat in a generous puddle of freshly churned butter infused with sage.
The Italian-influenced menu is dominated by substantial main courses with creative condiments, rather than sauces. So a fillet of beef is served with deep-fried Jerusalem artichokes, rocket and Café de Paris sauce, which arrives as herbs, capers and anchovies spread across the steak.
Turbot with girolles, chanterelles and salmoriglio is a combination of seasonal ingredients that work together in perfect harmony; the earthy flavour and chewy texture of the mushrooms offsetting the fleshy turbot.
"Autumn is abundant with girolles and chanterelles, so I try to include them on the menu as much as possible to make the most of these lovely mushrooms," Gyngell says. The dish is
served with salmoriglio, a southern Italian condiment made with lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, minced garlic and parsley.
Desserts follow the same recipe of seasonal simplicity with taste taking centre stage. Meringue is served with sorbet made from miyagawa (an early maturing satsuma) tempered by candied ginger and Jersey cream; and a prune and Armagnac tart comes with crème fraÁ®che ice-cream.
Despite the decadence of the setting, Gyngell likes to keep the cooking simple and seasonal, preferring to keep the culinary flair for the flavours on the plate.
From the menu
- Dorset crab with white polenta and purple basil £16.50
- Cod's roe with crème fraÁ®che and bruschetta £14
- Wild sea bass with spinach, chilli and preserved lemon dressing £30
- Slow-cooked pork shoulder with courgettes and fresh borlotti £29.50
- Dover sole with arroncina beans and three-cornered garlic £34
- Pressed chocolate and hazelnut cake £8
- A selection of ice-creams for the table £12
- Wigmore with muscat grapes and rye crackers £9
Somerset House, New Wing, Lancaster Place, London WC2R 1LA
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