The reopening of the Savoy hotel means the favourite haunt for Conservative MPs is back in business. Mark Lewis visits a culinary legend.
While most restaurants drift in and out of favour, some serenely transcend fashion. The Savoy Grill is one such venue. Trading again after a lengthy period of closure as its parent hotel enjoyed a makeover, the Grill has benefited from a Russell Sage Partnership restoration that has retained its art deco splendour, which recalls the golden age of the grand hotel restaurant.
The Grill presents the culinary visions of chef-director Stuart Gillies and head chef Andy Cook. Cook first worked with Gordon Ramsay Holdings 10 years ago at Claridge's, since when he has opened Gordon Ramsay at the Conrad Tokyo, been head chef at Maze New York and executive chef at Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood. He returned to London last year to redevelop the Grill with Gillies.
"We didn't want to create another ‘Gordon Ramsay at' restaurant," Cook explains. "There's nothing bigger than the Savoy Grill. Once we'd defined that, we concentrated on what a grill was all about: simple British food, focusing on great produce and stripping away the fluffy bits."
The result is a broad-ranging bill of fare that brings together reinventions of British dishes and some French classics. Dishes are split into starters; fish and shellfish; grills from the wood charcoal oven; roasts, braises and pies; and the daily trolley. Cook has up to 18 chefs on service to deliver his menu, serving around 100 at lunch and 160 to 170 at dinner. Average per-head spend is £60-£70.
Starters offer established flavour combinations with modern twists. So, the beetroot tart (£9.50) reassembles the regular beetroot and goats' cheese salad by laying finely sliced confit beetroot on puff pastry with a salt and vinegar caramel and toasted pine nuts. Meanwhile, the Cheddar, Gruyère and smoked-haddock hit of Savoy staple, Omelette Arnold Bennett (£11.50), has been retained.
Cook has added a Josper charcoal grill and oven to the kitchen, and is proud of the meat being grilled in his new toy. "It was great for me, after experiencing beef in the USA and Japan, to taste English meat that was comparable, if not better. We use rare breeds such as Belted Galloway and Shorthorn Galway mix, and age it for 35 to 40 days."
Beside beef cuts such as Porterhouse and Châteaubriand, the Grill menu offers Herdwick mutton cutlets (£18), veal paillard (£18), and roe deer venison chop (£19). The seven-day cycle of trolley offerings is just as diverse, with beef Wellington (£26) and loin of suckling pig (£19) rotating with the more traditional roasts.
The Grill delivers a healthy dose of theatre. As well as the trolley service, Châteaubriand (£56 for two) is carved in front of diners; a custard millefeuille with mango (£9) and apple tarte tatin, vanilla ice-cream (£18 for two) are sliced at table; and a chicken roasted whole (£55 for two) is presented in the restaurant before being taken back to the kitchen for carving.
Head sommelier Chris Cooper has compiled a wine list that's approachable and affordable, with a lengthy list of wines by the glass. "We wanted to keep it minimal but with some big hitters", explains Cook.
Desserts combine panache with tradition, and include lemon tart (£8), rum baba (£8.50), passion fruit soufflé (£8), chocolate fondant (£9) and baked Alaska flambé (£9).
SAMPLE DISHES FROM THE MENU
Baked Hereford snails with parsley root purée, shallot sauce and brioche crumbs £12.50
Foie gras torchon with spiced chutney and toasted brioche£16
Baked egg cocotte with smoked bacon, wild mushrooms and red wine sauce £10.50
Fish and shellfish
Baked Orkney scallops with steamed leeks and shrimp butter £15/£22.50
Hot-smoked salmon with horseradish sauce and colcannon £18
Roasted loin of monkfish with cured Cumbrian ham, parsnip purée and black pepper sauce £26
Roasts, braises and pies Braised English hare with roasted saddle and buttered spätzle £21
Butter-poached and roasted red-leg partridge with a partridge turnover and smoked bacon sauce £19
Herdwick mutton, carrot and turnip pie with Worcestershire sauce £17
Rum baba with citrus fruits and Jersey cream £8.50
Custard millefeuille with mango £9
Mandarin baked Alaska flambé £9