‘People who run stately homes do not eat. They live on dust inhaled from rulebooks’
Bryn Williams at Somerset House South Wing, Somerset House, The Strand, London WC2. 020-7845 4646. Open MonSat 10am-4pm; 6pm-10pm; Sun 10am-4pm. About £45 a head, plus drinks and service As I left Bryn Williams at Somerset House, past the stiff-faced security man on reception and over the deserted courtyard, I decided: I am no longer eating dinner in wings of historical buildings. I’m through. And, yes, this might be the most princessy utterance my lentil-loving paymasters have ever published, but bear with me.
Years ago, during a heinous dinner at The Keeper’s House in the Royal Academy (a Peyton restaurant lodging within a Palladian mansion dating from circa 1664), that I walked out of mid-entree, I began hatching a theory that old, protected buildings and pricey food should never meet. They are a clash of cultures. The hospitality world is the refuge of nocturnal, lamb-fat-stained crackpots who want to “push envelopes”, cater to the drunk until at least 11pm, and nurture atmospheres of warmth and largesse. Meanwhile, all museums, stately homes and National Trust properties are run by dusty committees of vehemently opinionated, singleinterest protectionists. These people do not eat. They live mainly on dust inhaled from voluminous rulebooks. Perhaps this is why there are no signs for Bryn Williams during the half-mile walk from The Strand to your dinner table in the south wing. It’s a similar set-up with Spring, Skye Gyngell’s place also at Somerset House, which again is very tastefully done, but has the cheer of a nuclear winter. Worst culprit of all, I’ll wager, was 42 Raw in the Royal Academy (now closed), an expensive, wellness-focused dining experience in a room four times higher than it was wide and an ambience chillier than the £17 raw “Thai noodles” (magimixed carrot tossed in sesame oil). You know what would have been better in all these places? Somewhere selling fruit scones with a tiny ramekin of jam and the option of buying a nice commemorative postcard.
Nevertheless, I booked to eat at Bryn Williams’ new place because Odette’s in Primrose Hill, where he is chef patron, has a strong reputation, and also because