top of page
  • Shelley Dark

#10 London Biennale and Spring

I've heard so much about Petersham Nurseries that I was determined to see the shop in Covent Garden. These hydrangeas grandiflora were having a collaborative show off in the centre of the courtyard.

It's a very nicely curated collection of flowers, plants, furniture and outdoor living accessories. Plus a café. Do you know what I mean when I say that opening the door to shops like this makes my shoulders relax? I think my eyes feel safe!

I had to laugh at this performer in front of the Covent Garden market - with his spiky blue hair he was putting 200% into his performance, shouting at the top of his voice.

I walked by several times as I wandered the market building. I hope he does well because he certainly puts in. I took this photo later when he was packing up.

This stand inside the market had the most innovative products I saw all day - actually, since I've been in London! Babies looking like pilots or skiers. Fabulous!

Loved this building on my way down to Somerset House where I had booked a tour at midday.

Past a group of workers relaxing. There's a lot of construction going on in London!

graphic courtesy of Pentagram for the London Biennale, artist Andy Singleton, photographer John Ross

I'd booked a tour of the highlights of the second London Design Biennale. This year the theme is Emotional States, challenging designers from forty countries to show how design affects our very souls and every part of our lives.

Artist and art historian Frank Wasser, a lecturer at Tate Britain, was our tour leader, tall, thin, intense, very knowledgeable and very articulate. It’s amazing isn’t it how much more you get out of an exhibition with a guide. I looked at his website but I couldn't quite work out what field of art he works in.

The graphic represents the Biennale through a series of folded paper masks commissioned by Pentagram, the world's largest independently owned design studio.

The idea came from Charles Darwin's theory that animals and humans share the same emotions - anger, fear, surprise, disgust, joy, sadness and contempt.

Isn't it amazing? Can you imagine how hard it would be if someone told you to make a mask out of folded paper, to represent an emotion?

I love the symmetry of Somerset House don't you? In 1547 the Duke of Somerset started building a palace on this site. He hadn't quite finished when he was executed in the Tower, so the twenty-year-old princess who was to be Elizabeth I moved in for a few years. Over the centuries there were a series of royal tenants before it was pulled down and this present building began to take shape.

This is Sumi Ghose, the Managing Director of the Biennale, whom I met in the foyer. Happy chance. It’s a credit to him!

The Greek display is an interactive walkway made of flexing steel ribs in the central courtyard. I was first through for the day!

​It's called disobedience - later an obedient crowd had formed a queue. -:)

This was in the courtyard too - couples enter a container which shows inside and outside, images of Budapest. They kiss inside with the city as their backdrop, and it's projected outside too.

Pakistan's exhibit celebrates the women who work under dreadful conditons in the cotton clothing industry.

Australia's is a rainbow coloured light display celebrating gay marriage. The photo doesn't really show how colourful it was. Walk through the hanging light cables made them swing.

Loved the huge perspex container of cashmere from Mongolia - there were circular holes in the side to feel the soft fleece.

A bit of scratch and sniff wallpaper! There were a few exhibits which incorporated fragrance.

Like this one. That's Frank in the middle, explaining those hoods which are wafting fragrance through the room. Smells from childhood that evoke emotions in the creator.

I loved the Polish exhibit, showing everyday objects which took on added significance during recent Polish History. For instance a man hole cover became a symbol of the Warsaw Uprising, because the sewer network was used for moving resistance troops and equipment. Toilet paper was hard to buy, so people took hard-to-find string with them to the shop so they could wear a toilet paper necklace coming home.

Medal winners were Egypt with an exhibit about the loss of modernist buildings in their country, Latvia celebrating the relationship between man and nature, and the US with face and emotion recognising software.

The Courtauld Gallery is closed for renovation until further notice. 😢

By this time I was champing at the bit for lunch at Spring which is in part of Somerset House. You'll know that it's owned by the originally Australian chef, Skye Gyngell, who used to run Petersham Nurseries restaurant. She's also a writer.

On my way there, at every turn, a stunning axis!

Much of what I now know about Spring came from Instagram - it's such a knowledgable and sharing community! This huge piece of artwork is on the wall in the foyer of the restaurant.

I was shown to my table by the most elegant willowy creature you can imagine - Monique is the sommelier - and there's a vast wine list! What about this incredible uniform? Designed by Maureen Doherty👏🏻. A black pinafore over a black tshirt, wrapped cummerbund style with a slight train, white sandshoes. When I come back I want to come back as a waitress at Spring so I can wear one! They all looked divine.

This very handsome room is in the former Inland Revenue rooms designed in the 18th century by William Chambers. I actually gasped when I saw it - it's such a light white feminine space, with great attention to detail. Camel-coloured leather chairs. Again my shoulders relaxed! The designer was Skye's sister Briony Fitzgerald.

The walls!

The fabric covering the windows!

Instead of flowers on each table, a cute pumpkin!

These flowers were supplied by Fern Verrow, a Herefordshire farm run biodynamically by Jane Scotter and Harry Astley. They supply produce for Spring as well. A post in itself!

The menu is seasonally based - tweaked daily according to what is available. There's also a pre-theatre evening menu called Scratch, which uses ingredients left over in the kitchen, highlighting the fact that much food is thrown out because of silly reasons: misshapen, or has a hole in it.

I ordered two entrées again, beginning with a salad: Cornish crab with cucamelon, candy beetroot, shredded radicchio and sauce verte. The cucamelons are those little crunchy green bits. The flavour of this was amazing - slightly bitter from the radiccio, balanced by the sweetness of the beetroot. None of which overpowered the shredded crab.

Followed by the more strongly flavoured of the two dishes: ravioli of girolles, sheep’s milk ricotta and marjoram butter. Monique told me that the yellow colour comes from the yolks of the eggs they use - remember the van we saw the other day? Clarence Court's fabulous eggs by fabulous birds?? Although my favourite of the two plates was the crab salad, this was delicious too.

I arrived home just in time to set out a cheese plate for my expected guests! My watch was telling me that I'd accomplished my target exercise every day for a week - I've never seen that before! Woo hoo.

Some of you might know Andrina from Western Australia. Although we're instafriends, we originally didn't know we'd both be in London at the same time. Or consult each other about where we were staying. We ended up two blocks from each other - literally steps away! Uncanny.

It was so wonderful to finally meet her and her husband Jon. Andrina is writing a book too! We had drinks in my apartment and then dinner at the Kensington Hotel - all chatting away non-stop for hours as if we had always known each other. Isn't Instagram amazing?

My asparagus with truffles was superb. That was enough.

I had a flight to Cork the next day. Andrina and Jon had sightseeing to do. It was an early night.

Which is what I'm also having tonight! Next post will be Cork. Until then buddies,


shelley dark, writer 

bottom of page