Skye Gyngell is back in her first outing as chef-patron.
Spring is an apt name for Australian-born chef Skye Gyngell's new restaurant in central London, given it's a new beginning for her. Gyngell has been absent from the London restaurant scene since she left Petersham Nurseries Café near Richmond, just beyond the western fringe of London, in 2012. There, what started out as a daytime café for wealthy hobby gardeners in 2004 soon started to attract the attention of critics and eventually the Michelin Guide inspectors, who awarded Petersham Nurseries Cafe a star in 2011. Yet Gyngell quit a year later, saying: "It's been a curse. Since we got the star we've been rammed every single day, which is really hard for such a tiny restaurant."
It was time for Gyngell to trade up. "To own my own restaurant has always been a dream, but Spring took 18 months to come together." The new premises were a challenge - the disused Victorian wing of Somerset House, a grand historic building facing the Thames that has served as British Admiralty headquarters, then as a tax office since the 1850s, needed a lot of work at considerable (unspecified) cost. "I fell in love with the site at Somerset House because of its beautiful natural light," Gyngell says. "What was then a dreary space had this stunning shard of light streaming through one of the arches, and I knew we could transform it into something truly beautiful."
If you've delved into one of the three cookbooks Gyngell has published, you'll know her cooking style: strongly inspired by Italy rather than bound by it, and simple. And so it is at Spring, where her Petersham-style dishes have been translated into a much grander and slicker setting with a fancier wine service. Puntarelle is served with olive, mint and goat's curd; agresto, a nutty salsa made with verjuice, adds vibrancy to a simple vegetable roast. Although Spring is Gyngell's project of the moment, later in 2015 her attention will shift to Heckfield Place, a country-house hotel west of London in Hampshire, owned by Spring's investor, Morningside.