Food

The most preposterous restaurant to have opened in London this year

13 December 2014

9:00 AM

13 December 2014

9:00 AM

Somerset House, a handsome Georgian palace on the Thames, was once the office of the Inland Revenue, and the courtyard was a car park, but that particular hell is over. Instead there is Skate at Somerset House with Fortnum & Mason, which is a purple-lit skating rink next to a ‘pop-up’ shop or ‘Christmas arcade’. This, because all PR copywriters think they write for Jennifer’s Diary in 1952, is apparently ‘the most chic and complete Christmas experience in London this season’.

I doubt it. There is, for instance, no sign of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, Father Christmas, or rogue elves, although there is a ‘twinkling 40ft Christmas tree hand-picked from the Kielder Forest’. Of course I can only think — how big a hand do you need to pick a Christmas tree? There has been a lot in the newspapers recently about tattooed elves smoking and saying ‘Have a shit Christmas’ in various Christmas ‘blunderlands’ and not exercising what A calls elf-control; why exactly elves have to conform to the same societal mores as, say, the women of Saudi Arabia I know not, but there it is.

There is, however, a selection of fashionable nightclubs and ‘après-skate’ bars selling truffles and champagne and, for all I know, magic dust. Why is there no Santa at Somerset House, which is so complete a ‘Christmas experience’? This will become clear, children, as we wander deeper into the palace, past the skaters, who are photogenically falling over as if on a mass Richard Curtis-themed date, to the north-west.


And here, at the end of an expensively lit corridor, is the most preposterous restaurant to have opened in London this year, and so probably in the British Isles. It is more preposterous than Fera (‘wild’) at Claridge’s, to which it pays homage before vaulting over it towards madness; more preposterous even than the psychological torment posing as a restaurant that is called Beast. It is a testament, above all, to whimsy, and it is called Spring. I too can do whimsy when I am minded; Spring, therefore, is your Christmas restaurant review. One cannot do Winter Wonderland every year.

Spring comes from Skye Gyngell, the fairie chef responsible for Petersham Nurseries in Richmond-upon-Thames. This is the garden centre café which won a Michelin star. I cannot speak definitely of Petersham Nurseries since I have not been there, but I have heard tales of plant lovers fighting with divorcees over access to parking spaces; it was, I heard, cultural warfare of the most exciting kind. Gyngell herself was not particularly thrilled by her Michelin star — she has called it a ‘curse’ — and it is true Michelin changed the tablecloths-are-essential rule to reward her. Even so, she has left her garden and set up on the Strand; so this is a fairie chef given unlimited access to money. The result is a misogynist’s vision of the apocalypse; it is a scene from a novel that imagines what overpriced restaurants would be like in a civilisation run by women who like flowers and inter-pretative dancing.

First, a desk with fairie women in smocks. You probably do not know what a smock is; it is a garment designed to make the most slender woman look like an oatmeal–coloured space hopper. There is an internal fairie–lit garden, and a vast fairie–populated dining room, lit by what look like condoms filled with water, or perhaps haemorrhoids; a fairie is dancing on the menu. There are subtle pale sofas, subtle pale tiles; even the chairs are subtle. Too much subtlety cancels itself out and becomes something else: that is, pretension.

The food is overwrought fairie food, designed to appeal to people who want to eat ginger-flavoured meringues and boast about it. We have ravioli of onion squash with marjoram butter; deep-fried anchovies with slow-cooked chard and aioli; guinea fowl with tomato and beetroot puree, which looks as if it has been killed twice; grilled sirloin with onion squash, cavolo nero, borlotti and horseradish. I ask the hovering fairie waiter, idly: please may I have some chips on the side? I am old–fashioned like that; steak means chips. No I cannot, I am told, by fairie waiter and fairie manageress. They do not serve chips; but, if I really want some carbohydrate (their phrase — do I, do I?), they will bring me some artichokes. Pardon me? In what universe is an artichoke an adequate substitution for a chip? I would mind this misery less (who thinks of a meal as carbohydrate and protein?) but the same thing happened at Beast, and it is pure snobbery; at least at Beast, when I threatened to go to McDonald’s and return with some chips, they said they would bring me a plate and we would speak no more about it.

It is also, I sense, a contempt for the kind of people who like chips. Fairies don’t eat chips, you see, and nor do the women who dine in a monetised forever Spring; the smock, of course, is a boast. And this, I think, explains the exile of Father Christmas from the ‘complete Christmas experience’ at Somerset House. He is irrevocably fat; it is part of his myth. And since a fashionably thin Father Christmas would look weird — not at all like the haemorrhoid light fittings — it is best to forget him altogether. It would never happen at Rules, a whole restaurant that looks like Father Christmas, where this reviewer takes her Christmas dinner. I suggest Spectator readers do likewise. After this, I hate the fairies. And they hate me.

The hate is expressed chiefly by the artichokes; passive aggression is the fairie weapon of choice. They look like roasted goblin ears, and they are in-edible. The rest of the food is OK, but it does not merit the prices and the fairie gunk; and the puddings are revolting. Merry Christmas, Spectator readers.

Spring, New Wing, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA, tel: 020 3011 0115.

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Show comments
  • Swanky

    What in god’s green earth is ‘inter-pretative’ anything? Between pretatives? I think you mean ‘interpretive’, don’t you? Whatever that is.

    ‘I would mind this misery less (who thinks of a meal as carbohydrate and protein?)’.
    Answer: Someone that is eating a low-carb high fat-and-protein diet. Alternatively, someone that has learned about human nutrition. It’s really not that weird, you’re just outside of it.

    ‘Pardon me? In what universe is an artichoke an adequate substitution for a chip?’
    Indeed. But equally we could ask, in what context does an educated native English speaker write ‘pardon me?’ instead of just ‘pardon’?

    • Jack

      This is a very weak attempt at being cutting, and it is completely unfair to the reviewer. Your attempt to counter her quite reasonable complaint about the artichokes is just absurd; it doesn’t address the point she makes at all. You may as well be saying, “Oh, you don’t like my artichokes? Well I think you have a big head.” It is also perfectly fine to say “pardon me”.

      ” “Who thinks of a meal as carbohydrate and protein?” Someone that is eating a low-carb high fat-and-protein diet.” – So you need your food referred to as the nutrient that is its main constituent, otherwise you won’t be able to make choices accordingly? If I was following a low-carb diet, I would have no trouble avoiding carbohydrate-rich foods even if they are called mysterious things like ‘chips’, ‘potatoes’, and ‘rice’.

      It is weird. Imagine advertising orange juice as ‘ascorbic acid juice’ because some people might be low on vit c. Imagine asking for a cup of caffeine with high trigonelline content, because you like your coffee bitter. It’s just silly. Do you know that smoking a benzene/arsenic/carbon monoxide/tar stick is bad for you? That’s a cigarette by the way.

      Check the Oxford English Dictionary: it is interpretative. If you want to try and put other people down to make yourself feel more intelligent than you actually are, do put more effort in.

      • Swanky

        Blimey. Who gave you the grumpy flakes this morning? As for the extra A and the ‘me’ added, I am a stylist and I prefer fewer syllables to more, e.g. orient as a verb rather orientate. Then, as you probably didn’t notice since you were too busy chiding me, someone somewhere put in a pointless hyphen. So it caught my eye. Tanya Gold writes for a living. I am not out of line to fault her on style — never mind content!

        • Jack

          I’m not grumpy, I just found your comment needlessly critical and immensely pretentious, so I replied. I’m also not the one who tried to trash a restaurant review. I obviously did notice; perhaps she was playing with the word to reflect the comically grandiose nature of the restaurant she was reviewing.

          I think the use of Americanisms, i.e. interpretive, is dreadful style. Hardly qualifies you to comment. As is starting a sentence with a conjunction. SO that caught my eye. You choose to critique the style of others, so I am not out of line to critique yours.

          She writes reviews and blog posts for a living, which is precisely why she can write in whatever way she likes, even if that means playing with words and adding verbosity. I personally thought it added a lot to an article about bombast.

          • Swanky

            Dear o dear. Never mind, Jack. And I think you’ll find that a lot of ‘Americanisms’ are no such thing. I have three citizenships, and they all do English a little differently in each country. But it’s all English to me. I take the best practices and use ’em.

          • Jack

            I couldn’t make this stuff up. The same person has just written these three sentences:

            “Whereas you seem to take this word stuff extremely seriously.”

            “But equally we could ask, in what context does an educated native English speaker write ‘pardon me?’ instead of just ‘pardon’?”

            “I am a stylist and I prefer fewer syllables to more, e.g. orient as a verb rather orientate.” What pathetic back-tracking.

          • Swanky

            So it’s a grumpy lunch as well as a grumpy breakfast! The same person wrote all those lines: imagine that! It’s called sophistication. And light-heartedness. Have a nice weekend!

          • Jack

            Insincerity; how can I have a nice weekend now?

          • Swanky

            Well, there’s always dinner!

          • Swanky

            P. S. My comment was actually light-hearted, whereas you seem to take this word stuff extremely seriously. The trouble with doing so is that 1) it’s not that important, and 2) you come across as sententious. So I begin to wonder if you’re having me on….

  • AMR

    The only one coming across as a passive-aggressive snob in this article is you, sir. Threatening to go for McDonalds for chips at a restaurant clearly not of the genre?

    Despicable.

    • post_x_it

      “Sir”?

    • colchar

      Despicable? You’re not one for hyperbole I see………..

  • Speechless

    I’m with you, old-fashioned, smocked fairy-hating, fat chip-loving
    reviewer. (I am assuming you’re a fat chip lover as opposed to a skinny
    fries fan….nuff said!!). Spring sounds like a slow painful death to me. Any waiter who refers to any food as carbs and/or proteins, is in a food group all of their own & their sell-by date has well and truly passed. Artichokes instead of chips? I am speechless. I am without speech. Did they offer you a beer instead of a bread basket?

  • Mister Rible

    It’s preposterous when a restaurant reviewer can not go one meal without chips. Any curiously open and wordily reviewer would have tried the (I’d assume) deep fried artichoke chips, and written about them, whether good or bad, instead of going on a hissy fit rant.

    Is this lady also ordering chips at Coya, Hakkasan and Ceviche?
    Because then I’d like to apply for her job as she clearly has no clue about restaurants and food in general.

    • gerronwithit

      As he is a she, you were not really paying attention. I thought her article was very funny and she clearly does not mind setting herself up for plenty of faux indignation, which I would treat the same way as anyone expressing contempt at me disparaging ‘art installations’ i.e. I would laugh.

      • Mister Rible

        you did not pay attention, since you did not bother reading the first sentence of the second paragraph

  • Damaris Tighe

    Did you try asking for pommes frites?

    • rodger the dodger

      Batons of Root Vegetable, maybe?

  • gram64

    In-edible maybe, but your in-terpretation is somewhat ill-iterate.

  • Treebrain

    Tanya Gold,

    How fascinating that you decry the absence of Santa in the Christmas event at Somerset House yet completely fail to mention any mention of the absence of Jesus Christ?

    Surely he is central to any mention of Christmas (Hint, it is all about him because his name is in the title!)

    PS While on the subject of Somerset House, it is in fact originally a Tudor building, not Georgian, created by the Duke of Somerset, Thomas Seymour, who was involved with King Edward VI. (Hint, the clue is in the name, Somerset!).

    • jjjj

      Happy Christmas and Hannukah, Treebrain.

      • Treebrain

        Thank you and I hope you enjoy the festive season too!

  • Frank

    Excellent, I find the killer request is to ask for ketchup. This makes the waiting staff’s lip sneer so acute that they almost fall over.

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