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May 9, 2018

Restaurant Review: Bryn Williams at Somerset House, London

By Lauren Jade Hill

With the opening of renowned Welsh chef Bryn Williams’ first London restaurant in a decade—within the historic landmark and arts hub Somerset House, no less—we paid the new dining venue a visit to try his veg-centric take on modern British cuisine.

It’s early evening on the first day of summer heat when I come by to eat at the new restaurant, so as I arrive at its entrance within Somerset House’s South Wing, a queue of after-work drinkers trails out the door from the restaurant’s draft beer bar complete with statement overhead copper casks. This bar leads through to the restaurant’s three dining rooms, which combine the character and ambiance of Somerset House with the buzz that comes funneling through.

Here, arched windows and other architectural details of the Georgian building are complemented by mottled grey-blue walls, herringbone floors and tan leather banquet seating strewn with burnt orange, red and purple cushions, while marine-inspired elements reflect the building’s naval history. Photographs of heirloom vegetables, which you’d be forgiven for thinking were oil paintings, by Welsh fine art photographer Allan Jenkins decorate the walls and spherical glass lights hang down from the high ceiling.

With Latin music playing in the background, I’m brought a glass of verdicchio from the tightly curated menu of both old- and new-world wines, along with a wooden board of warm, sweet homemade soda bread and light-as-air salted butter.

Each dish at the restaurant places the vegetables center stage, even if meat and fish are other elements of that same dish, and sustainability, seasonality and provenance are key. This approach can be seen in the first starter I try, the compressed watermelon, avocado, Dorset crab and sea vegetables plate, in which a satisfyingly dense disc of fresh watermelon is topped with crab in what seems to be a light citrus mayonnaise, with avocado puree and sea vegetables adding the final flourish. This arrives at the same time as the salad nicoise with grilled yellowfin tuna—a dish featured in the Spring Salads section of the menu—in which each element in the classic French dish is celebrated individually, from the cut of chargrilled tuna steak that’s a little rare in the middle, to the crispy roast potato, anchovy, slow-cooked egg and olive tapenade.

From the main courses, I opt to try the roast cauliflower with golden raisins, capers, soft polenta and salted grapes, and the dish of roast young broccoli, olive tapenade, tempura sage leaves and grilled red mullet (again, listing the fish last, giving the broccoli the most important role on the plate). Each dish is engaging to eat with its contrasts in flavor and texture. In the first, the buttery roasted cauliflower and creamy polenta contrasts with the sweetness of the golden raisins, slightly sharp salted grapes and satisfyingly acidic capers. In the second dish, it’s the broccoli that turns out to be the highlight as it comes as a sweet puree as well as in its natural form. Each dish is simply but elegantly presented.

Keeping the theme running through the entire meal, plant-based ingredients are the stars of the dessert menu too. While the menu can vary depending on the best ingredients available, I tried the bay leaf panna cotta, which lived up to my intrigue with its blackberry jus, roasted hazelnuts, drizzle of rapeseed oil and lemon curd. Other tempting options include chocolate pavé with almond and orange, and the chef’s carefully selected British cheese with fruit chutney and Nain’s Bara Brith (a Welsh fruit loaf Bryn Williams takes particular pride in), or you could finish with a cocktail, at the table or bar – you choose.

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