dines at the Savoy Grill...

In the autumn we were all terribly excited at the prospect of returning to the Savoy... The last time I'd been, some time before it had closed, it had been empty, deflated and the decor was definitely faded. It was however genuine and true to itself, especially when combined with the utterly luscious interiors of the theatre. I was disappointed that they'd sold off the entire contents of the hotel, but one had to assume that they were going to create an entirely new experience for the 21st century.

I began to worry when I saw the first part of the documentary detailing the renovations: why on earth were they putting in copies of Singer-Seargant paintings? I rather like Singer-Seargant, but these aren't even particularly good versions - why were they going to fake the entrance hall, rather than either commission new works, or purchase replacements for those they sold off? Still, it did all look much smarter than it had last time we'd entered the room... But old Mustapha had gone - and now there was no-one to good-humourdly ply me with champagne.

As we were intentionally 45 minutes early for our table, having intended to grab a drink beforehand, we tried to get into one of the bars. In the American Bar the queue for a table actually led out of the door, and in the Beaufort Bar, there was a 30 minute wait for a table. What was going on? There were people coming in off the street to gawp at the elaborate bird cage contraption in the lower lobby, and people taking photos of the decorations. Oh no - the Savoy has turned into a tourist destination... It was time to take a chance and hope our table was ready early.

The staff in the Grill confirmed we could have our table momentarily, and we sat in their little bar having a glass of champagne. We drank it. People re-shuffled the bottles, topped up the ice in the ice buckets, and ignored us. There was no further interaction.  The wait gave us an opportunity to look at the room, which I have to say I rather liked - the chandeliers were unusual and rather lovely, the faux tortoiseshell panels made the room look rich and warm... But... what was that... smell...? It smelled like an old carvery - all gravy and roast meat? It's only been open a month, surely that smell is wrong?

Forty minutes later our table, which had clearly been empty and in plain sight, was declared ready. Really? The restaurant was half empty - it was 7'ish - they couldn't cope with two early diners? Or at least check that they wanted another drink?

Finally seated, the waiter arrived and asked us to order - we pointed out that we hadn't actually seen a menu.   The menu was long on meat... Very, very long on meat. Fair enough - it is a grill - but even by my standards there was a lot of meat. And personally, whilst I love steak, I don't really want to eat my way through a fillet steak still on the bone - I'm not in NewYork - this is the Savoy! It also became perfectly apparent why the restaurant smelled of gravy and Sunday lunch - all that meat took up most of the menu...

We ordered a bottle of Cervaro della Sala, my favourite from the Antinori estate (more expensive here that typical in London) and had a little chat with the somelier, who we'd last seen at Koffman's. He was engaging, charming, and perhaps the only person we dealt with with any personality. We talked about Koffman's pistachio souffle, and he mentioned that the Grill had rather a good passion fruit souffle. That determined that I wasn't going to eat the side of a cow, so I ordered the scallops, the dover sole and a winter salad. The Hubby had the foie gras and the veal mixed grill, with a side order of cauliflower cheese and chips.

The scallops arrived in their shells on a bed of sea salt, and with an apple and butter dressing. The dressing was lovely, but some of the scallops was slightly strange. These days I leave anything that doesn't taste right! The Hubby's foie gras was presented with a little brioche loaf, and nicely turned out from it's timbale, but he didn't think it was especially nice. I have to say, we were quite unimpressed, and no-one questioned my half-eaten plate.

The cutlery for the next course arrived and we were given each others'. We swapped them over without comment.

My sole arrived and I asked for them to remove it from the bone. Now in Sheekey's this is a two minute affair at max, and they arrive back quite promptly. However here the Hubby had his mixed grill cooling rapidly in front of him, and in the end I encouraged him to start. He wouldn't until my fish had been returned. It was cooked nicely - perhaps a little overdone - but I couldn't help remarking that perhaps all the better fish in London went to places like Sheekey's and Scotts, because this looked a little odd? Then I realised it had just been butchered when they took it off the bone, and reduced to two thin lines of fish... And the Hubby didn't have his sauce - we asked for it, and waited again.  The Hubby's mixed grill was by now luke warm, and he thought it over cooked. The cauliflower cheese was too sticky, the chips left uneaten, soggy and bent, and the winter salad was long on frise and endive - too bitter to serve with the rich and delicate sole.

By this stage and knowing that we were going to be there for the long-haul, we ordered a second bottle. It wasn't chilled, so the lovely sommelier put it on ice. A minute later the waitress wandered over, picked up the bottle, and proceeded it pour it into our existing glasses without checking. Oh no.  Two minutes later the sommelier appeared with a clean glass, and went to offer it to the Hubby to taste - 'don't bother' he said, 'it's too late'. The sommelier was genuinely aghast and apologised, but it just highlights how ill-trained and inexperienced some of the staff are...

Having said that, when it arrived, my passion fruit souffle was absolutely delicious and went surprising well with the chocolate sorbet. Not a combination I would have put together, but the combined aromas were actually so fragrant and yummy that I wanted to eat the whole thing immediately. The Hubby had a baked alaska flambe which looked very pretty, and judging by the speed it went down, appeared very good.

Finally happy with something, we asked for the bill. Which didn't arrive. We asked someone else. It didn't arrive. Ten minutes later, after I had very pointedly looked at my watch, the Hubby finally grabbed one of the managers and asked again. This time it was given back immediately, so had obviously been sitting there all along.

I'm really not sure what to say. Some of the service was very good - some diabolical. Some of the dishes were good - some really very mediocre. Parts of the room are lovely - but the smell is actually quite overwhelming - you don't expect to leave smelling like you've been in a 'Harvester'. Would I go back? Absolutely not. The wine list is overpriced, I think the menu is quite unbalanced, and really lacks any of the touches of the Boxwood Cafe, who's chef is supposed to now be at the Grill. I had really looked forward to catching up with the old team again, but in this room, the previous light touches were unrecognisable. What a shame.

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