The architecture of Somerset House is majestic and heavy, with its rather hefty air of hard work and gravity still redolent of the government offices it used to accommodate. But march through the entrance and turn right and along the frowning edifices, and you will find yourself in Spring – and an atmosphere so utterly opposite it might make you gasp.
Airy, high-ceilinged and painted in pastel shades of green and blue, the dining room really is spring-like in feel.
The various light fittings remind one of frog spawn or aubergines or berries, and the origami petals arranged in gently dispersing circular dandelion drifts on the walls imbue the restaurant with a spirit of lightness.
The attire of the staff has provoked much comment: there seems to be a nautical/operating theatre theme. I liked the waiters’ striped t-shirts, and while I wasn’t convinced by the tents worn by the women at reception, their colours nevertheless worked together. However, the woman whom I took to be the maître d’ was, on the other hand, wearing a dark forest green skirt and top combination that did not harmonise with the other staff members’ apparel, and looked both sombre and dowdy.
The menu is not long and there were elements that required explanation. Our waitress, who bore a striking resemblance to Toulouse Lautrec’s La Goulue – appropriately for someone working in a restaurant with its potential for gluttony – and a haughty self-importance to match, made us feel a bit reticent about asking too many questions. She defrosted a little as the meal progressed.
I’m not usually one to order fruit juice, but the pistachio and apple was too good a combination to pass up. It was sublime too – freshly puréed apple with the warmth of roasted pistachios and just a hint of aniseed. One retro rhubarb-striped glassful is simply not enough.
To start, I had a salad of fennel, blood orange, hazelnuts and radicchio. The plating was refined and elegant as you would expect from an establishment so concerned with its aesthetic. I have a weakness for blood oranges too, so this went down well, and the combination of flavours was refreshing. This dish, however, was listed rather deceitfully under mains, and unless you’re on a 5:2 diet, it is only substantial enough to pass as a starter.
I followed the salad with sea bass with Jerusalem artichokes and black olive dressing. All the pressure points of cooking fish well had been thoroughly met, and with flair: the skin was crisp to the point of shattering, and the flesh melted away with minimal cutlery usage. Tender and perfectly seasoned and combined with the salty crushed olives and tomatoes and crunchy-skinned Jerusalem artichokes, this dish was worth its significant price.
My dining companion ordered the fillet of beef with farro, cavolo nero and shredded radicchio. The beef was generously portioned and a fine cut, but it was slightly under seasoned. The farro with pea purée made up for its rather un-photogenic appearance in flavour.
The salad of grilled lamb, chickpeas, radicchio and chilli jam was good without being outstanding, and the vegetarian onion squash with cime di rapa and chilli butter was also flavourful, albeit on the small side - despite our waitress’s assurance that it was a main course. Surprisingly, vegetarians are not abundantly catered for.
The rhubarb element of the winter rhubarb ice cream with meringue and candied ginger dessert looked uncannily like the floor tiles of the women’s loos. This lavatorial reminder didn’t manage to put me off – it takes a lot more than that. The ice cream was tangy and tart and contrasted well texturally with the good, but quite ordinarily so, meringue. The ginger was a wonderful addition titillating the palate whenever a piece found its way on to the spoon.
I enjoy most types of dessert but I am more inclined towards those with substance, which the hazelnut and pear tart with crème fraiche and espresso went some way towards satisfying. The pastry was lovely and crumbly and suffused with hazelnuts but slightly on the dry side. The pears were delicious, too. However, the almost invisible dots of expresso powder were not enough to substantiate the menu’s claim to its existence.
The dark chocolate honeycomb petit fours were a nice touch at the end to accompany our fresh mint teas and coffees.
I’m always sad when a good meal comes to an end, and Spring was indeed a good meal with some especially outstanding dishes. The service was ok without being exceptional (by the end of the meal the waitress had half-smiled once) while the interior is ethereally beautiful – almost a reason to go in itself.
Suitable for: smart dates, celebrations, family, business lunches, healthy eating