Chef Skye Gyngell's Spring Is Seasonal Magic—at a Price
Skye Gyngell is the kind of chef who takes customers with her when she moves restaurant. That's how it looks at her new home, Spring, in Somerset House.
The 100-seat dining room has been packed since day one. That's an achievement, particularly as Spring is expensive. Mains cost about 30 pounds ($45). Spring has made a good start.
At those prices, it will need to keep up the standards, and even step them up after these opening months.
It helps that Gyngell is one of the few women to reach the top in U.K. kitchens. She has an individual style of cooking: It's seasonal and generally light, yes, but it goes further than that. It's what I'd call feminine if that word weren't such a can of crawly things you wouldn’t want to find in your lettuce.
(I've tripped over words such as feminine since studying the sociology of sex and gender at university almost 40 years ago, which is rather a long time to be confused about things.)
Spring is strikingly beautiful, in a pastel, gender-neutral sort of way. The restaurant occupies a high-ceilinged space with large windows that was formerly used as a tax office and hasn't been open to the public for more than 150 years. It's light and serene, with natural oak flooring and an atrium garden.
Somerset House replaced a Tudor palace whose demolition was started in 1775. Construction on the new building began at the same time. The Royal Academy of Arts moved into the western side of the new building after it was completed in 1779. The Board of Inland Revenue, formed in 1849, went on to occupy the east and west wings until 2011, according to the Somerset House website.
That's where Spring comes in.
Australian-born Gyngell previously won a Michelin star at Petersham Nurseries, and the room reflects her love of nature.
The menu is short, with about half a dozen starters, mains, and desserts. Each dish is pretty much meat (or fish) and two vegetables. But you may need a dictionary to identify what's on offer unless you're the kind of person who speaks fluent castelfranco, farro, cime di rappa, and membrillo.
Gyngell's focus is on the ingredients. The beautifully fresh crab starter (14.50 pounds) is served with fennel, castelfranco (radicchio), puntarelle (chicory), and bruschetta.
The unusual vegetation is as interesting as the main player. Take the grilled leg of lamb (28 pounds): The meat has a great depth of flavor. It's succulent, if I may use that word. But the cavolo nero (a relative of kale), farro (wheat grains), and braised radicchio are colorful pals that won't be upstaged.
It's well balanced and wallops you with flavor without needing to sink you with too heavy a carbohydrate hit.
(I'm reading online that faro's carbs may boost your immune system. That sounds promising. All I need to discover now is wine that is good for your liver. Ah, just found it: "A Glass of Wine, Good for Your Liver." Right.)
The grilled chorizo with warm chickpea puree on the lunch menu is full-on for flavor. A dessert of warm roasted quince comes with vanilla ice cream and brandy snap. You need not leave feeling hungry: Portions are surprisingly large.
Gyngell is influenced by U.S. pioneers such as Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif., more than by the European traditions followed by Gordon Ramsay and his acolytes, such as Angela Hartnett and Clare Smyth.
If you think choice is limited on the main menu, wait until you see the set lunch. It offers no choice, other than whether you want to pay 25.50 pounds for two courses or 29.50 pounds for three. I ended up ordering a salad for a starter and it was dressed as beautifully as an actor on the red carpet.
All good, although the generally unsmiling service is frosty for a place called Spring. It's almost reverential. Gyngell is a warm person and her restaurant doesn't need to be cool. It just needs to be good. And it is.
Spring is at Lancaster Place, Somerset House, WC2R 1LA; +44-20-3011 0115 or springrestaurant.co.uk.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines.)