The Deco-ish dining room of the palace-hotel by the Thames offers a straightforward formula which was generally achieved to a good standard on our early-days visit; wine prices are very high though – the sort of ‘celebration’ meal to which such a room is ideally suited could end up very pricey indeed.
The Savoy is not like other hotels. Built by Richard D’Oyly Carte on the proceeds of his backing of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas, it is an institution with more claim than most to use the term ‘unique. Nowadays, it’s London’s only central five-star hotel without an obviously smart location. You visit the Savoy largely because you want to go to the Savoy, not because you just happen to be in the area. It really is a ‘destination’.
Its three-year refurbishment, recently concluded, has consumed a staggering amounts of money, pushing the overall investment of its owner, a Saudi prince, to a breathtaking £450m. In spite of the vast expenditure, part of it on a new interior by a Gallic designer, Pierre-Yves Rochon, the layout and styles of the public areas of the hotel are still pretty much as they always were – endearingly miscellaneous. For a Frenchman so to have recognised the impossibility of imposing order is evidence of an impressive degree of self-control.
In fact, the extensive refurb has only created one seemingly wholly new public space – the splendidly stagey Beaufort Bar. Like its established sibling, the American, its early-days problem has been that it’s too popular. If want a drink, you tend to want it now – not after a 20 minute wait for a table.
The same difficulty of regulating demand is evident when it comes to dining. When we’d rung to book a lunch table, we were told – entirely implausibly – that the River Restaurant was booked up till 2011. Our lunch companion, however – made of sterner stuff – happened to know people who know people, and obtained a table with no difficulty at all. (As a result of this booking procedure, incidentally, this turned out to be one of the vanishingly few meals we’ve consumed over the past 20 years at the end of which no bill was presented.)
As refurbished, the dining room – which, astonishingly, was not in general use as such in the dying days of the pre-refurb régime – has a pleasingly Deco aesthetic. Given the horrors visited on perfectly nice grand hotel dining rooms in London in recent years – yes, Dorchester Grill, we’re especially thinking especially of you – it seems remarkable to encounter a room that’s so indubitably pleasant (and with river views too, if you get the right tables).
The staff at the new Savoy, in the restaurant as elsewhere, are smart, notably well turned out, and palpably trying very hard, but there are still bedding in. True savoir-faire – not really apparent on our visit – will no doubt develop in due course. (Their spelling still needs sorting out too. There may be establishments where ‘earthyness’, ‘opulant’ and ‘mash’ – for MÃ¢che! – will do. Not here.)
But the food, even in the early days, impressed. A goat’s cheese amuse inspired mixed reactions among our party, but the prettily-presented starters and main courses almost invariably hit their mark, and the breads were very good too. A set lunch menu, for example, included a first course whose main feature was a scallop of impressive plumptiousness, precisely timed, and a main course of elegantly presented pork belly. A la carte, a cod main course was a particular success.
Puddings need work. Nicely deconstructed and plated up as they were, they rarely really made much impression on the taste front, so, you’re visiting for the set lunch, we suggest going for two courses (£24) rather than three (£29).
If you should visit here with a budget in mind, though, do treat the wine list with care. We’re not saying that prices here are out of line for a grand hotel, but it was upsetting to see many prices on the list of red wines by the glass which, in lesser establishments, would nearly have bought you a bottle. The result, of course, is that a meal here can easily become ruinously expensive to a degree with, applying normal criteria, it would be difficult to characterise it as ‘good value’.
But they’ve got to start getting that £450m back somewhere. Even if we had been paying, we like to think we wouldn’t have begrudged our contribution to the cost of the return of a Great London Institution.