When Skye Gyngell announced her departure from Petersham Nurseries in 2012, there were mixed reactions. Outrage, for no longer would London have an excuse to nip to Richmond for lunch and come back as refreshed after a weekend in the country, and delight, because this might mean that Gyngell would open a restaurant of her own. Two years later and that latter has come true, with the launch of Spring.
The restaurant is housed in the New Wing of the Somerset House complex and although this location makes for a grand approach, it can be rather tricky to find if you don’t enter from Lancaster Place. Inside, and the space has certainly been conceived with a womans’s touch (in this case, Skye’s sister, Sydney-based interior designer, Briony Fitzgerald) with pastel shades on the soaring walls, organic-shaped details and soft lighting. There’s also a stunning conservatory filled with plants and additional seating. This is central London, but Skye has not forgotten her Petersham roots. In a nod to her love of grow-your-own, a simple piece of seasonal fruit or veg dresses each table – a rustic touch that just about works, although my companion did have to ask, “did you order a gourd?”
A glance at the menu and its clear Spring is one busy kitchen, with many of the basics – syrups, bitters, bread – made in house, such as the Root Negroni with Beetroot Campari, Great King Street Whisky, Barolo Chinato,and Ginger, a great twist on the classic that makes for a stirring aperitif.
The food? Despite plenty of choice, we’re sold on the recommended starters immediately: San Daniele with ricotta, artichokes and farinata, and squash ravioli with marjoram butter. Both are splendid; the pasta silken and fine, and the other dish displaying an assembly of quality ingredients rather than any actual cooking. Portion control, however, seems to have gone awry, with the cured ham and bread salad more of a lunch plate and rather filling. Of course, there are more pressing worries in life than a few mouthfuls more than required, and undaunted we get stuck in to the main course.
The pork belly with chickpeas and spinach arrives like an Italian matriarch – a monster of a dish, this might be a rustic step too far. Although the flavours are rich and well conceived, there’s just too much of the same wet texture and, thanks to its size, just too many chickpeas. I’ve nothing against this innocent pulse, but chickpeas scream value, and with a price tag shy of £30, this makes it a little hard to swallow.
Wild sea bass with a mushroom salad is of infinitely more elegant proportions. However, as with the pork belly, there’s something a tad sloppy about these plates – the taste is all there, and they are full of life and colour, but in a smart, formal setting this food looks a touch too homemade. However, we loved the pear and hazelnut tart for pudding, chunky crunches of roasted hazelnut in a pastry so short it crumbled with every spoonful.
There’s so much to enjoy about Spring, from the inspired use of seasonal produce and its pretty setting, to the chic staff uniforms (designed by Egg boutique co-founder, Maureen Doherty) and warm atmosphere, that the lack of precision doesn’t seem to matter too much – this is a restaurant with heart.