Somerset House is a spectacular view from Waterloo Bridge as you cross the River Thames, and a stark contrast to the concrete, modern buildings which face it on the Southbank. A grand design has stood here since Tudor times, when Edward Seymour built a palatial residence. At the time he was Duke of Somerset – but was overthrown and executed in 1552. Nevertheless it still bears his name, and over time has housed Elizabeth I and numerous queens consort, before being put to government use in the 18th Century. Today, it’s a combination of government buildings, an institution for art and learning, host to temporary exhibitions on subjects from Valentino to the Rolling Stones, a concert venue, open air cinema and part-time skating rink during the winter months. I’d recommend popping in at Christmas if you’re close by – it’s extremely pretty.
Spring is the latest restaurant to open at the complex, situated in the New Wing. You enter through a long covered walkway and are immediately greeted by the grandiose, marble, illuminated bar and host desk. You are then lead through to a large, airy dining room that is bang on the pastel trend – all sky blues and pearly whites, crisp table linen and glinting glassware. Despite the huge windows letting in vast amounts of light (even on a grey day), you’d have no idea that one of the busiest junctions in London is just metres away.
Goat’s curd and spinach with black olives on bruschetta
The restaurant offers a set lunch menu – 2 courses for £27.50, 3 for £31.50 – which, for the quality of the food and service, is remarkably good value. The menu changes with the season, and there are two options for each course.
To start, I had the goat’s curd bruschetta, which had much more goat’s curd than I was expecting. It had a really interesting flavour. My long-time dining companion, Emily, tried the tagliolini – it was a pretty big portion and extremely tasty, although perhaps a bit too big for a starter.
Grilled mackerel with creamed kale
We were half a bottle of wine down (we had asked our waiter for a recommendation and he did not disappoint) when our mains arrived. I had plumped for the roasted quail, which was perfectly cooked. The sweet potato really stole the show – the perfect accompaniment to this delicate little bird. However, I think it was pipped by the grilled mackerel with creamed kale, which was so delicious. Both main courses were just delectable.
Roasted qual with sweet potato and chimichurri
We decided to share a dessert as we really didn’t have room for one each. Plus, one of the options was ice cream, which I always feel is a bit of a cop out as a dessert option – especially when there’s only two choices on the menu. We had a lovely almond tart which was more nutty than I was expected – I thought it may have been blended down to have a creamier consistency, but it was still quite crunchy.
Almond tart with creme fraiche
The staff were dutiful throughout, and the clientele was varied – it was impossible to tell whether people were on business lunches or leisurely dining with friends, but there were certainly no tourists. The only thing which could have made the experience better would be to have three instead of two choices on the set menu. There was no vegetarian main – I don’t know if you could have asked for one, but really you shouldn’t have to. I would definitely return though (when I’m feeling flash…) – it’s the kind of place I would take my Mum to as a treat.