The Savoy Hotel, The Strand, WC2R 0EU
Tel: 020 7592 1600, www.gordonramsay.com
Cost per person without wine: £50
THREE years ago, when the Savoy hotel closed for its gazillion pound refurbishment, Gordon Ramsay’s reputation as a cook and restaurateur of true brilliance had yet to be eclipsed by his brutish TV ubiquity, apparently ever more mountainous ego and the overlapping of personal and business calamities.
At the time, the hotel’s Grill restaurant was an example of Ramsay-the-restaurateur at the top of his game. He and Marcus Wareing had built on the venue’s historic importance and won it its first Michelin star.
Now, after the financial disasters, the closures, the feuds, the familial maelstroms, that barmy letter to a newspaper and the unavoidable sense that a volcano of hubris was finally raining down a lava of just desserts all over Ramsay’s operation, I found myself wondering if this venerable dining room didn’t seem more tarnished by association with him than exalted. If you were revamping and reopening one of London’s most important places to eat, would you still get Gordo to do the job?
If your answer is “no”, go straight to jail, do not collect £200 and never open a restaurant. Because the Savoy Grill is, by any stretch, quite magnificent. It has all the gliding elegance and class of a grand ocean liner on the calmest of seas, and the debonair cool of a Twenties jazz club. In the food, by former Boxwood Café chef Stuart Gillies, I could scarcely find a fault.
ODE TO ART DECO
Firstly, though, the room – a gleamingly handsome ode to Art Deco sumptuousness, with walls of burnished orange lacquer, deep, circular black banquettes, smoked mirrors and huge, cylindrical crystal chandeliers. It’s perfectly lit, and thanks to its parquet-patterned carpet and profusion of luxurious soft furnishings, absorbs sound well – next table’s conversation will not intrude on your own.
The menu is old-fashioned but considered: a broad, brasserie-style affair filled with ancient (mostly) Brit classics like mutton, beef Wellington and steamed steak and onion pudding.
There’s a substantial grill section as you’d expect, which includes roe deer venison chops and veal paillard alongside the usual steak cuts; a good fish selection (all present and correct: oysters, lobster Thermidor, Dover sole); and a daily roast that’ll be brought to your table by trolley and carved in front of you.
It’s a menu that’s nostalgic but not whimsical; hearty but not earthy; sophisticated but not intimidating. It may not shout innovation, but imagination, deftness and integrity are all worthier qualities.
I began with baked egg “cocotte” – which normally means egg cooked in a ramekin, but in this case it came in an attractive porcelain coddler. Beneath a silver lid, velvety yoke was swimming around with wild mushrooms and bacon pieces in an unctuous red wine sauce. I’ve actually dreamt of this dish since, such was its loveliness.
My companion tucked into omelette Arnold Bennett – a Savoy tradition, invented by Auguste Escoffier in the hotel’s other, originally more formal Riverside Restaurant. Served in the brass pan in which it was cooked, it was a decadent, creamy swell of egg, haddock and cheese.
Having started with eggs, we both continued with beef. My friend gleefully summoned the trolley – a sturdy, stagy contraption of polished silver – and had roast rump steak that was beetroot pink, tender as anything and thrilling to taste.
My melting chunk of sweet, wine-braised beef shoulder nestled beside a couple of oval tranches of brilliant-red fillet, a rich dollop of creamed wild mushrooms sitting atop it like deep snow on a ski chalet.
After years of avoiding crème brulee in restaurants – too often it’s either scrambled or lying under a caramelized top so thick you need a drill to dislodge it – I was reminded just how mischievously good a proper crème brulee can be. My friend, by now getting a taste for tableside theatrics from the staff, had a sublime, many-peaked baked Alaska which was dashed in Grand Marnier and set ablaze at our table.
I came to the Savoy Grill in a circumspect state of mind, wary of just how far off course the good ship Ramsay seems to have been sailing of late. But in some ways, there’s very little of Ramsay directly evident (though there is, of course, a chef’s table). If there’s a reputation on show, it’s that of the restaurant itself rather than the restaurateur – a legacy celebrated and revitalised by the design, the service and by Gillies’ nuanced take on Brit revival food.
While the atmosphere may be intended to hark back to the place’s inter-war heyday, the irony is that the Savoy Grill’s heyday may, in fact, be now.