Fernandez & Wells, Somerset House

A stumpy (a sort of mini flat white), in a glass, sitting in the sun in the courtyard of Somerset House at Fernandez and WellsAlmost a year after featuring Fernandez & Wells for the first time, with the delightful Exhibition Road branch, I thought it about time that I got around to writing up the Somerset House branch, where I’ve been a semi-regular visitor through the year. Set within Somerset House itself, with stunning views of the courtyard and, in the summer, copious outside seating, it’s one of the most physically appealing Coffee Spots that I’ve been to. Inside, high ceilings and large windows give it an immense sense of light and space, while multiple rooms, on a par with Paris’ La Caféothèque, means that there’s something for everyone.

A cross between wine-bar, deli and coffee shop, F&W’s food and coffee are as outstanding as the setting. Somerset House has a similar offering to Exhibition Road, with perhaps a slightly more extensive menu, which never fails to amaze and delight me. The coffee’s from Has Bean, with a bespoke house-blend on espresso. Open late into the evenings, it’s the perfect spot for an after-hours coffee or a bite to eat and while I haven’t tried it, the wine selection looks excellent. In the summer, it’s one of the best outdoor cafés in London.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Fernandez & Wells, in the glorious setting of the Somerset House courtyard on a sunny day.
  • And, of course, in the summer, when the sun's out & the fountains are on, this happens...
  • If fountains aren't your thing, you can sit and admire the architecture all year round.
  • If the weather's nice, the outside seating is a wonderful option.
  • However, you've got to go inside to order, so you may as well have a nose around.
  • You turn up in the first room, with the counter directly opposite.
  • It's a very long counter, seen here from the far (right-hand) end of the room.
  • The bulk of the seating is to your left as you come in, at the other end of the room.
  • I particularly like the table in the far corner, but it's always taken!
  • You can go back out to the courtyard once you've ordered. However, we're going to explore!
  • The rest of the seating: a pair of tables & window bar. But where does the corridor go?
  • It leads into another room, seen here from the far end back, looking towards the corridor.
  • Ths one has plenty of seating too, such as this island table, or the window bars beyond it.
  • It's got its own counter too, which is where all the food preparation takes place.
  • There's a neat fireplace in the party wall with the first room. Check out the hams!
  • At the other end of the room, there's another fireplace, abstract art on the chimney-breast.
  • This one has got another row of tables in front of it, providing further seating options.
  • And what's that through the doorway at the end? It looks like another room...
  • ... and so it is, but before that, there's a little corridor with another counter...
  • ... and its own seating, with another door on the other side.
  • The view through the second door back into the second room.
  • Turning around, a panoramic view of the third room from the other door.
  • There is another fireplace, with more abstract art above it...
  • ... and another row of seats in front of it, this time in the form of a bar.
  • However, what makes this room stand out are the two long, communal tables.
  • There's another counter/bar in here, but both times I was there, it seemed to be a store room!
  • So, to business. Fernandez and Wells is known for its food, chalked here on the wall.
  • And here, in more detail, on the menu.
  • It's also got a good reputation for coffee.
  • Just in case you were wondering who the coffee was from...
  • From my first visit: a stumpy and slice of cake on a winter's evening.
  • And dinner: fried eggs and sour dough toast.
  • From my second visit, Kartouk, an African dish of tomatoes & peppers in a skillet.
  • The skillet, once I'd finished.
  • I was determined to try as much of the menu as I could. From my third visit: racelette.
  • And finally, I leave you with a stumpy in the sun from my fourth visit.
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Fernandez & Wells is a London-based chain of six, two in Soho,  one in Exhibition Road, this branch and two more that opened in 2014. Of the six, Somerset House is probably the classiest, approaching Notes’ levels of opulence. It’s also easily the largest, spreading over three rooms (four if you count the corridor), plus copious outdoor seating.

You enter F&W from the courtyard, coming into a long, thin room, counter directly opposite you. This stretches almost the full length of the wall, cake to the left, espresso machine at the far right. Tables in an L-shape to your left, occupy the space between door and left-hand wall, plus the wall itself. To your right, two square tables sit between espresso machine and a small window-bar.

Beyond this a small corridor runs along the front of the building, giving access to the second room. This contains a continuation of the counter, extending halfway along the room and acting as a charcuterie and kitchen area. The party-wall contains a fireplace, huge hams hanging down above it. There’s a long, high island-table, with five chairs (backs to the counter) between counter and two two-person window bars. At the far end, in front of another fireplace, is a long bench with five small, round tables. Next to this, two doorways open in the back wall, a small, round table between them.

Both doorways give access to the third and final room via a corridor which effectively counts as a fourth space. This leads to the toilets and the rest of the building to the right, while to the left there’s another counter (a continuation of the same counter from the first and second rooms). Between the two doorways, on either side of the corridor, are two two-person bars.

The elusive third room (closed on my first two visits) is (relatively) less opulent than the first two, occupying a spot at the back of the building, overlooking another courtyard (part of King’s College). Dominated by two long, 12-person communal tables running the length of the room, there’s two two-person window-bars at the far end. To the right, another marble fireplace has a six-person bar in front of it, while on the left there is another counter with a second fireplace behind it (in reality an extension of the counter from the other rooms).

On my first visit, I had a stumpy and fried eggs with sour dough toast, both of which I’d had at Exhibition Road (where you can find a discussion of the coffee). I paired this with an excellent slice of Moroccan Honey Cake.  This was lovely and moist, not too sweet, with flaked almonds on top.

On my next two visits, I was determined to try more of the menu, so I had Kartouk (?), an African dish with fried egg and lightly-toasted sour-dough bread on a base of tomato and roasted pepper. This came in cast-iron skillet/pan and was essentially a spicy tomato and sweet pepper broth, not at all what I was expecting! On my third visit I had raclette (new potatoes, smothered with melted cheese on a bed of fried onions and, in this case, topped with pickles). It was nicely done, the potatoes well-cooked but still firm and the cheese just right, slightly soft without being runny.

SOMERSET HOUSE • STRAND • LONDON • WC2R 1LA
www.fernandezandwells.com +44 (0) 207 420 9408
Monday 08:00 – 22:00 Roaster Has Bean (espresso + bulk brew)
Tuesday 08:00 – 22:00 Seating Tables, Bars, Tables (outside)
Wednesday 08:00 – 22:00 Food Meat, Fish & Cheese Plates, Cake
Thursday 08:00 – 22:00 Service Counter (order at counter for food)
Friday 08:00 – 22:00 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 10:00 – 22:00 Wifi No
Sunday 10:00 – 20:00 Power Limited
Chain Local Visits 15th January 2014, 16th, 25th July 2014

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