Despite my keen interest in Gilbert and Sullivan, I’ve never dined at the Savoy Hotel (though I had high tea there once, many years ago). I had wanted to dine at three-star Gordon Ramsay, but that restaurant is closed this summer for refurbishing. I chose the Savoy Grill instead, which turned out to be another restaurant in Ramsay’s large empire, though I didn’t realize this when I booked.
The Savoy Grill is more formal than its name would suggest, with fussy French-style service and tuxedo-clad waiters reminding me a bit of Alain Ducasse in New York. It is a much larger restaurant than Ducasse, and only one star, rather than three, so they are not quite as attentive, but many of the ideas are similar. The previous evening, I had a lovely window seat facing the Tower of London. At the Savoy Grill, I was seated next to a large column with a view of the hotel driveway.
After I sat down, a server wheeled over a cart with several champagnes, from which I was invited to choose. In this type of restaurant, I’m always wary of getting stuck with something that costs $20 a sip, so I asked him for a printed list. He was apparently confused about this, and asked if I’d like bottled water. I said that tap water would be fine. With barely concealed disgust, he slid my water glass to the edge of the table (apparently a signal to his colleagues that this chump doesn’t want the bottled variety) and moved on.
When a server arrived, I explained that I did want champagne. He apologized and sent the champagne guy back over. He remained quite irritated that I wanted to see a list of the choices, but he managed to point out where they were on the wine list, and I chose one. For all that trouble, it was worth it—a glass of sparkling rosé that was surprisingly sweet and smooth.
The regular menu is a £55 prix fixe, but on weekends there is a £30 alternative, which they call the “grill menu,” with six appetizers and six main courses to choose from. Several of these looked compelling, so I decided to save myself £25. Smoked salmon (£4 supplement) was unimpressive. It came without sauces or any other accompaniments, and the taste was no better than average. Particularly for a dish that carries a supplement, I expected a better performance.
Wiltshire pork belly was a tour de force. (After I ordered it, the server mentioned that it was a particular favorite of his.) It was cut in a long strip, in the shape of two thick cigars placed end-to-end. It was tender, fatty, and flavorful. As the server had proved he and I had similar tastes, I accepted his recommendation of the white chocolate cake for dessert, and this was most enjoyable.
There was, again, a reasonable selection of half-bottles available. Remembering my happy experience with Chablis at Le Pont de la Tour, I chose Chablis again (£25), but this was a more pedestrian bottle that reminded me why I don’t usually order Chablis.
After the champagne fiasco, the server went out of his way to ensure I was taken care of. If anything, the service was a bit too rushed, and I was out of there in about an hour. When I’m paying this kind of money, I’d prefer that the meal unwind a bit more slowly. However, to their credit the champagne was comped. (At least, I think it was—nothing was said, but it wasn’t on the bill). In total, dinner came to £59 before tip.
When I told the server that I’m from New York, he introduced me to the house manager, who will be transferring to New York later this year to manage Gordon Ramsay’s first American restaurant, which will be gunning for three Michelin and four New York Times stars. We had a pleasant chat and exchanged business cards. Obviously my Savoy Grill experience is not indicative of Ramsay’s three-star cuisine, but I’d advise him to focus hard on the kind of service glitches that the Times’s current reviewer tends to penalize.
One wonders how much time Ramsay will be able to spend in New York. The house manager said that Ramsay will be there for “the first few months,” and then occasionally thereafter. Ramsay has something like nine restaurants in London alone. Coincidentally, during my stay I saw him on a TV show called “The f word,” which features Ramsay swearing at everybody in sight. In the show’s main vignette, four amateur cooks do a service in the kitchen with Ramsay, in which he hurls expletives at them on the slightest provcation. The guests don’t seem to mind, as they all seem to know about Ramsey’s famous temper. Being told to shut the fuck up is obviously part of the game.
The Savoy Grill (Savoy Hotel, Strand, London, WC2R 0EU)