Savoy River Restaurant

Savoy Hotel, The Strand, London, England, WC2R 0EU, United Kingdom

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What follows are notes from a meal in December 2010 with the kitchen under the previous chef. 

The Savoy re-opened in late 2010 after a much-needed makeover, and at £220 million you would hope that you could see the difference: fortunately you can. The main spaces are attractively set out in art-deco style, and of course this refurbishment includes the two main restaurants, the Grill Room and the River Restaurant. The River Restaurant has considerable history, with Auguste Escoffier the head chef from 1890 who established its reputation, and Anton Edelman in more recent times (1982 – 2003). Escoffier invented Peach Melba and Melba Toast here, as is noted on the menu (it omits the detail that Escoffier was eventually dismissed for taking kickbacks from his suppliers, amongst other things). There is a view over the river, although this would be best seen on a sunny winter’s lunch, as there is a screen of mature trees now between the dining room and the Thames. There is no longer a central dance floor for tea dances, and the new décor is supposed to resemble that of an ocean liner. It has plenty of prints on the wall, thick carpet and decently spaced tables. It is a large room that at capacity could seat 150 guests. These are catered to by a kitchen of a dozen or so dedicated chefs. The crockery is from Wedgewood, commissioned for the Savoy.

There was a five course tasting menu at £66. On the a la carte, starters were £12 - £19, main courses £25 - £32, and desserts £10. The menu has plenty of appealing, fairly classical dishes. The head chef was Ryan Murphy, most recently as head chef for just over a year at Ronnums Herrgard in Sweden after working at several top restaurants in New York. The 28 page wine list had plenty of well-known producers, and as well as the expected grand French wines has quite a lot of choice under £40 a bottle. Examples are Chateau Puy Lacoste 2002 at £98 for a wine that costs £29 retail, the pleasant Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2008 at £65 for a wine you can pick up in the high street for around £17, and Chapoutier Hermitage Sizeranne 2005 for £120 for a wine that will set you back around £50 in the shops. At the high end of the list Chateau Latour 1996 was listed at £1,650 compared to a retail price of around £655. We drank the rich and excellent Schlumberger Kitterle Pinot Gris 2006, listed at £76 for a wine that costs about £22 retail. Bread is made on the premises, and was a choice of tomato roll, breadsticks, brown, white and raisin bread. It was adequate rather than inspired bread, the texture not top drawer, the flavours a little subdued (13/20). 

The meal started well enough with an amuse-bouche of roasted pepper and lemongrass soup with beef cheek. The red pepper flavour came through quite well and the lemongrass was a good match, adding a little acidity and bite (14/20). My starter was a trio of scallops topped with a crust of hazelnuts, with Swiss chard, herb glazed salsify and a green peppercorn sauce. The scallops were of good quality and nicely cooked, the Swiss chard fractionally soggy, the salsify pleasant and the sauce suffering in appearance because it had been left to stand too long and a skin had formed on the surface (13/20 overall, but the scallops themselves were better than this). 

Crab salad was prettily presented and had good quality crab, with the salad of apple and celery enlivened with tobiko (flying fish roe), toasted sesame seeds and parsley-lime dressing. I particularly liked the dressing, the lime adding a fresh acidity that balanced the crab well. The overall dish needed more dressing as it was a little dry, but still this was a very nice dish (14/20). The first sign of inconsistency came with my wife’s pan-fried rosti with melted Brie de Meaux, wild mushrooms and Gewürztraminer sauce. The mushrooms were fine but the rosti was completely soggy, which surely defeats the whole point of the dish? (barely 11/20). 

Much better was my breast of guinea fowl with Brussels sprouts, warm seared foie gras, butternut squash puree and date jus. The guinea fowl was moist and nicely cooked through, the date jus rich and excellent. While the foie gras and butternut squash were also fine in themselves, the overall effect was very rich, with only the slightly undercooked Brussels sprouts offering any contrast to the richness of the other elements. The dish might be improved in coherence by having an element less; still, an enjoyable and well executed dish (14/20). 

For dessert, it was another up and down performance. Gingerbread pudding tasted properly of ginger, with pleasant Grand Marnier Anglaise and vanilla ice cream served in a biscuit tuile. The tuile was fine but although the ice cream had smooth texture it was seriously lacking in vanilla flavour (13/20 overall). My torte of chocolate and walnut was made with high quality Valrhona chocolate but was badly dried out, sufficiently so that I only ate a little of it; the accompaniments to the torte were fine but this was a glaring technical error (10/20). Coffee was of very good quality (15/20) but petit fours were also a mixed bag, with a decent chocolate ganache but a very dry fruit jelly. Service was pleasant throughout, friendly and attentive, and water and wine were carefully topped up. The bill, even with a deduction for the problem dishes, still came to £90 a head, which is an awful lot of money for a meal with this many inconsistencies.

Further reviews: 11th Dec 2011

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