The hotel is of course equally famous for its connection to food. Auguste Escoffier was chef at the hotel between 1890 - 1897, and for etymologists and fans of trivia, it is from Escoffier that we get the word 'scoff' as in 'to scoff your food'. Somewhat more well known, it is where both peach Melba and Melba toast were created (named after Dame Nellie Melba) as well as omelette Arnold Bennett.
Mention dining at The Savoy to most however and they instantly think of The Savoy Grill, though it wasn't always the case. It was in fact the River Restaurant where Escoffier cooked, and to that end, it is the River Restaurant that is our destination today.
Following a period of closure and a £220million refit, The Savoy once again opened its doors, on 10/10/10 (at 10.10 am of course) and there was much interest in seeing the 'new Savoy' and its new offerings. In October this year, at the River Restaurant, Canadian born James Pare was appointed Head Chef, having formerly been with the Fairmont Group (the Savoy's owners) in Seattle and Whistler. It is reported that James spent much time looking through the Escoffier archives (at both the Savoy and the Musée Escoffier in Villeneuve-Loubet, France) to respect the restaurant's food origins. In the evening, there's even an Escoffier tasting menu of classic dishes though at lunchtime, it's à la carte or Menu du Jour only.
With a good looking menu, unable to decide between options, we elected to create our own tasting menu. The opening course in our DIY tasting menu was Chestnut and porcini velouté, confit frogs legs and apple, together with Beef tartare, peppered melba, mustard and cipollini onion salad, quail's egg. Both were excellent and the additional touches to the dishes, like the tiny apple cubes in the velouté to give small bursts of acidity to contrast with the rich warmth of the chestnuts and porcini was excellent. Seasonally perfect too on a cold winter's day.
Our next round saw an order of Seared yellow fin tuna, dried green olives, confit garlic, fennel salad, and Pork belly, prawn carpaccio, cucumber, citrus dressing. Again, both were delicious. The pork belly was fatty, but the perfect side of fatty, enough to give huge flavours to the pork, make you feel a little guilty, but never too much that you feel cheated. The prawn carpaccio too was juicy, wonderfully seasoned and a delight in its own right. Both were excellent stand alone, together, fabulous.
In the case of the turbot, the first bite of the turbot with the oyster was fabulous and the dish felt inspired. However, moving further into the main, the generous piece of turbot was accompanied by two very generous oysters, a very generous amount of cucumber tagliatelle, and a generous potato terrine, all resulting in too much competition between competing favours. In a dish like this, I don't want the cucumber wrestling with the turbot for top billing, the cucumber should know its place.
The other dessert was a Warm chocolate orange moelleux, salted caramel popcorn ice cream. The chocolate, orange, salted caramel combination was excellent (and if you love chocolate oranges...) while the popcorn would have been heaven all by itself. Desserts are clearly a real strength of the River Restaurant. Peach Melba another time perhaps.
Prices are where you might expect them to be, but no more. Starters £9-18. The main turbot at £29 is competitively priced for top end fish while the veal chop at £29 compares more than favourably with the veal chop at high end City Italian L'anima at £36 on our recent visit there. Desserts too as noted above are priced at £11. For the quality of food and the comfort of the surroundings, overall, it's a fair deal in our view.
They have we think a difficult job at the River Restaurant: respect the past but don't get stuck in it, appeal to the hotel's natural demographic but attract non resident guests also, deliver Savoy standard service, but acknowledge the trends in food towards less formal dining. In the round, they do it well and we enjoyed our meal there. With a perfect cocktail supplied by the award winning American Bar (before and after), The Savoy overall was something of a surprise, and a classy way to enjoy a good meal in London.
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Savoy Hotel website
The River Restaurant website
The American Bar website