3 Nov 2007

Shaken, Not Stirred

I VISITED The Savoy this afternoon, interested to take a mental snapshot of London's 'first luxury hotel' one month before it closes for refurbishment. This will be no normal makeover, however, but a £100m (£224m according to staff) investment over nearly two years by its owner since '05 - the world's fourth richest man, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. And provided things are done with care, roll-on that cash injection!
Walking into the lobby, having dodged taxis shunting in and out of the rather tight Strand entrance combing the Savoy theatre, I noticed the brightness of day was swallowed, sombrely, into a kind of gravy brown, Wedgewood/Deco, faded opulence. God's Waiting Room.
The Grill being booked-out, and having been told the eatery above operated a similar menu (by no stretch), we had lunch in the deliberately diner-like Banquette. This is intended to evoke the 'interior of a 1950's Corvette Stingray' (Gordon Ramsay Holdings; Chef: originally Savoy-trained, Marcus Wareing). Whether it suceeded in this curious automotive ambition, all I can report is that this narrow, again dim corridor with ergonomically insensitive seat backs, ugly, cardboard coloured tables that were too high and clattering acoustics, failed to charm me. Tangle this rushed stylistic concept further with a menu that places Hamburgers A La Carte and you get the picture: a glorified 'Wimpy'.
The food, whilst far from imaginative, was well executed, however, and served with a genuine smile. Grease-free breaded prawns and aioli to begin, followed by a rare rib eye with al dente rather than sobbing spinach and crisp frites. Crème brûlée with caramalised banana cap comforted.
Bottles were selected from the Grill's list; Banquette expends more energy on its £4.50 milkshakes. Jermann's Pinot Bianco '06 from Friuli was unoaked, soft, rather like lemon sorbet in flavour and served at the perfect temperature. Michel Rolland's seven partner strong, Clos de los Siete '06 which followed, was too young to show complexity. I chose carefully to escape some of the most enthrallingly brash mark-up traps I have ever seen.
Rather meagre fresh mint tea was served afterwards in the American Bar. Despite its illustrious history, tubby (again brown), worn chairs sat squat on a carpet straight from the set of Abigail's Party.
Just before leaving, I visited the Gentlemen's Washroom where the attendant politely phlegmed into the washbasin...
Criticisms aside, I am glad to have visited this once trendsetting establishment and will be interested to see where thought and finance will take it. Hopefully the result will be decadently shaken, but not stirred.
Incidentally, at time of writing, there are still rooms available for the last night of this Savoy (15 December) starting at £509 for two. An auction of memorabilia will follow. Amongst the multitude of boring chairs, some of the lots make for an interesting browse...
The latest wine words from the Southwark News may be found HERE.