The new Savoy – grand or bland?

Art & Lit Food

By Mark Callaghan

Strangely absent from the current tuition fees uproar is the question of how students will finance their lunch at The Savoy Grill? You will agree, I am sure, it is quite a poser. Given the expected level of student debt, there is an understandable fear that extravagance will be confined to an imaginary future where disposable income is suddenly, and perhaps miraculously, forthcoming. Only then will graduates be able to luxuriate a little. Only then will the stranglehold of tuition fees be cast aside for pleasures great and small. Or is it wrong to view indulgences as being only affordable to students whose parents own sizeable parts of Kent? The Savoy Grill may sound like the most unlikely of locations for students to dine in, yet despite the opulent surroundings, this famous fixture on The Strand is surprisingly reasonable in price.

This is not to suggest that a Savoy invoice could ever be gentle on the wallet, but unlike many Michelin-star restaurants, the bill’s arrival does not cause one to stare ahead in disbelief, or to ask the staff for a sugary cup of (preferably free) tea as waiters furiously fan one’s face with a towel. The nouns ‘Michelin’, ‘Ramsay’, and ‘Gordon’, are often equated to the kind of charges that cause palpitations, uncontrollable nervous laughter, or a scramble for Ocean Finance’s contact details. Yet The Savoy Grill is far less likely to cause a panic attack when the bill is presented, though in all honesty, you will need to auction a kidney on E-bay to even consider the wine list. London’s first luxury hotel is much more than a modestly-priced food-tasting experience though – it is an exercise in time-travel too.

Just like the restaurant’s manager, the infamously shouty energy-ball, Gordon Ramsay, The Savoy Grill has undergone an expensive and lengthy makeover. The entire hotel, established by impresario Richard D’Oyle Carte in 1889, has been closed for the best part of three years and many feared the re-fit would erase the past and the very thing that made The Savoy Grill so grand, namely its sense of history and its sense of place. This is, after all, the dining room where Winston Churchill took his cabinet, where Oscar Wilde pampered Bosie Douglas, and where Frank Sinatra, Charles de Gaulle, Edward VII, Marilyn Monroe, and more recently, Amy Winehouse, all became legends in their own lunchtime. Fortunately the refit has been conducted with sensitivity to this history. The Art Deco interior remains; complete with 1920’s chandeliers, mirror columns, and chrome lining, which combines to evoke a would-be restaurant in the vertigo-inducing upper floors of the Chrysler Building. The main change is the dark lacquered walnut walls, which compliment the surviving Art Deco whilst also adding a sense that one could be eating inside a vintage Rolls Royce, which in many respects one is. So the sense that Audrey Hepburn could suddenly arrive (as she once did), with cigarette holder at the ready, remains perfectly preserved. The refit, then, is a revival rather than a revolution.

The food’s reputation also remains intact. The Lobster bisque with brandy butter was served with a steaming salmon pink soup, warming not just one’s cockles but one’s sub-cockles too. The roasted beef Wellington has ruined all my future encounters with beef, such was its succulence, and selecting a dessert was like choosing a favourite Beatles’ song (who also dined here in the mid-1960’s), due to the impossibility of discarding things you love and opting for just the one. In the end, like all life’s great decisions, it came down to the flip of a coin with the passion fruit soufflé beating the custard millefeuille with mango in a best of three. The cost, should you really have the appetite for a three-course lunch, is £46.00 per head, based on these selections. Considering the location, history, and enduring quality of this establishment, a bill for two people totalling less than £100.00 makes The Savoy Grill one of the best value Michelin star venues in London, and if the student is tactical and avoids the pricey wines, or even one of the courses, then there will be no need for St John’s Ambulance to be on stand-by when that bill arrives.