Before we get into this lovely feature, in light of the current situation, and following the advice from Government, Bryn Williams at Somerset House is closed until at least 12 April 2020. Somerset House have made the decision to close public exhibitions and events until at least 1 May 2020. Anyone who has booked a ticket for an affected event will receive a full refund as soon as possible.
I can’t help but to feel out of space when walking through the grandiose Neoclassical courtyard of Somerset House, its sculpture-panelled walls lit up by floor lights, making them twinkle in the night’s sky. It would make much more sense to be wading through bushes and mossy forests, considering that tonight I’m about to learn everything about mushrooms.
The evening starts with a guided tour through the exhibition Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi curated by London editor Francesca Gavin which explores and celebrates the world of mushrooms, and all the progressive, poetic and psychedelic wonder it evokes through the works of a collection of 35 artists, designers and musicians renowned for their use of the mushroom motif through three themes: Mycophilia; Magic Mushrooms; and Fungi Futures.
Our guide together with mushroom specialist Darren Springer (wearing a hoodie printed with a fluorescent shroom of course), walk us through the rooms where we encounter walls dotted with statements about stems and caps and gills, facts and figures about mycelial networks and how DNA profiles show mushrooms to be closer to animals than plants. From tiny fungi sculptures that are sprouting from walls and exhibition tables to a mushroom burial suit designed to cleanse the dead body of toxins and turn it into clean compost, each room is full of interesting artefacts which reflect on the public’s growing fascination with these spore-bearing organisms.
Feeling entertained and swarming with knowledge, it’s time to explore the other exciting project Somerset House’s been hiding out of sight. Quite literally! As a part of the ongoing Edible Utopia educational project, which looks at growing food in the underused and hidden parts of Somerset House, the site’s historic coalholes have been transformed into fungi chambers, where mushrooms are grown using waste coffee grounds collected from on-site restaurants, creating a closed-loop ecosystem.
To celebrate both the exhibition and the exciting project, chef Bryn Williams at Somerset House is unveiling new dishes that honour the versatility and simplicity of mushrooms whilst showcasing Bryn’s renowned focus on quality produce and seasonality that sits at the heart of the restaurant.
Lacking the imagination to come up with mushroom-based recipes that could work as the first course, all I can think of is the omelette Bridget Jones ate when on holidays in Thailand. Little bit disappointed but positively surprised, it’s an equally-mind blowing puffy brioche bun filled with a Clarence Court poached egg, drops of Béarnaise sauce and topped with an oyster mushroom which was grown a few floors below to where I’m sitting right now.
Joining the current seasonal favourites on the restaurant’s selection of main courses is a classic creamy risotto, made with wild mushrooms, seaweed powder and topped with a flock of aged parmesan shavings.
Me and the fellow fungi-enthusiasts at the table discuss what dessert could be possibly made of mushrooms and if we nevertheless end up leaving this place buzzed as we hoped for, but we’re interrupted in our brainstorming session by an arriving tray of cocktails. A vegan take on a classic gin fizz, our potion is made with apple juice, lemon, Gordon’s gin and aquafaba – the water in which chickpeas has been cooked that is often used in culinary as it perfectly mimics the texture of egg whites.
Even though I don’t have mush-room (sorry!), I’m intrigued to try the new addition to the dessert menu – a pineapple carpaccio served with black truffle shavings and lemon thyme. As I collect confused expressions from other diners, I also have to admit that the mixture of sweet pineapple with the woody truffle is quite strange, but with every bite, the explosion in my mouth convinces me that it works.
Leaving happily mushroomed, watching the twinkling city lights cast fluorescent reflections on the river’s surface, I realise that you don’t have to go foraging in forests to find these fleshy fruit bodies, nor you have to perform something illegal to have a mind-altering experience. They grow right here in the heart of the city and they’re brilliant.
The new dishes are available to 26 April 2020 although the restaurant is closed until 12 April 2020. Bookings can be made at www.bryn-somersethouse.co.uk