Fit For All Seasons! Spring, Somerset House

26 Aug 2016

I wanted to catch Spring off-guard. Monday evening, pre-theatre menu for two. Let’s see if Skye Gingell’s hot-tipped team under is on point at the week’s lowest ebb. But no sooner had we been seated, than Spring’s Hong Kong billionaire owner strode through the dining room. No chance of an off-night with the chief in the house.

Spring is a looker that drips with Hong Kong dollar. Honest simplicity may be its culinary calling card, but the space bristles with conspicuous craftsmanship. In the atrium, waxed terracotta plaster walls hark back expensively to nature. En route to the dining room, Emma Peascod’s gilded glass peonies blossom across an entire wall. On entering the expansive, air-filled dining room we fight the urge to kneel down and pray at the stunning Arabescato Corchia marble bar. Nothing about this intensely curated space is unstudied.

Not even the service staff, clad in bespoke striped jerseys and wide-cut trousers (for boys) and utilitarian slash-necked dresses (for girls) like urbane matelots and milkmaids. A milkmaid glides us to our table. A single lemon sits poised on our pristine linen tablecloth. Our order is taken with zen nods of affirmation.

Spring says its cooking is heartfelt, wholesome and produce-driven. It’s about the joy of seasonality. I can’t help but wonder how it can achieve honest simplicity when the ring of money echoes around the room.

Here’s how. A starter of Grilled Fern Verrow Leeks and Romesco wore its back-to-nature credentials with simple pride. Fern Verrow is a biodynamic Herefordshire farm, which Gyngell has tried to secure as the exclusive producer for Spring’s natural produce. This is a grower-restaurant marriage inspired by Alice Waters’ legendary Chez Panisse. The result was a delicious plate of slim leek and robust nutty sauce. In a dish of Endive with Gorgonzola Dressing and Walnuts there was seemingly no skill, and yet such skill in the way the barest hint of Gorgonzola turned leaves on a plate into a subtle treat.

Spring’s simple ethos found full expression in a main of Mackerel with Beetroot and Tomato Purée and Horseradish Crème Fraîche. Tender, sweet fish, flanked by generous daubs of the rich purple purée and spikey, pale cream. Each ingredient shone through, true and clear. Each was the perfect complement to its sisters. The kitchen’s flair is its confidence to present flavours as nature intended. Bavette with Deep Fried Courgettes and Salsa Verde was a plateful of pan-European gutsiness. Its zucchini fritti alas were thick, wet oblongs: a single duff note in an otherwise careful harmony.

I’m told that my glass of Sicilian Catarratto Sfuso – achingly ethical (organic, imported by train in boxes not bottles) – had been produced from vineyards untouched by Mafia hands. But how ethical the financiers that drink it in this schmoozily peaceful room? I digress: I chose it as a lemony sidekick to my mackerel, and recommend you do the same.

Hazelnut Meringue with Jersey Cream and Raspberry Sorbet won us over with a well-tempered triad of summery joy – the season distilled in raspberry zing – and we adored that a Pine Nut Ice Cream used a resolutely English, firm-textured ice to carry a resoundingly Italian flavour.

Spring was far from off-guard, even with the kitchen streamlining its means for three pre-theatre courses at £31.50. (À la carte starters are upwards of £12 and mains touch £30). This is a world of luxury that is practically pitch perfect. The rub is the capitalist deal-making that underwrites its slow food principles and calculated simplicity. So do marvel at Spring’s beauty. Just be mindful of its deep artfulness.


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