The Savoy Grill. Not what it was.

Offered the Savoy Grill to review, I jumped at it. I was thinking about the Savoy of old, of course, a place of legend. A grown up sort of a place, somewhere you might be taken by your kindly uncle, up from the country to visit his stockbroker and who would repair afterwards to his club, for a snifter and a snooze. If you lived in a 1950’s film that is.

According to a 1904 edition of The Times, the Savoy Grill was “where people go to eat a modest luncheon or to dine on the way to the theatre without spending too much time or too much money.” Hmmm. One of those still applies. Guess which?

Seen as an extension of No 10, Churchill used to hold Cabinet meetings here and it became a Thatcher favourite. Very male, very con, very trad. A place to see and be seen; politico heaven – never mind the food, smell the power.

For a while though, the food became the thing at the Savoy Grill and it was a foodie destination in its own right. In 2004, under the auspices of Marcus Wareing, it even won a Michelin star. He went, and so did the star.

I hadn’t been since the refit. I must confess that it’s not entirely to my taste; part club, part deco-diner, part tacky – check out the chandeliers. Very Vegas.

We were taken to one of the banquettes. I know I’m short but the last time the table was this high I was about 8 years old. We moved.

I wasn’t expecting ground-breaking cuisine- it isn’t that sort of place. Overseen by head chef A Cook (I kid you not) – it’s an old fashioned menu, full of comfort food and lots of meat. Entirely as it should be, with a decent wine list, with plenty by the glass, from £5 to £18.

A silver basket of bread was brought. I would describe it as hotel-restaurant bread. Perfectly edible, but not memorable. After a short while, unfinished, it was whipped away. And so it continued – every slight pause somehow signalling to the waiters that we had finished. Even when we had not.

I chose roasted butternut squash tart with goats curd and salted walnuts. It’s not an obvious dish for the Savoy and to be honest, that was part of the reasin for the choice. And to think, I could have had crispy pigs head croquettes with gribiche sauce, or smoked salmon with traditional garnish.

My tart, with its obligatory swirl of balsamic, dribbled over frisee lettuce was served just above room temperature and looked like it had been resting somewhere warm for a few hours. It looked tired and floppy and the pastry was oily and sweaty and stuck to the plate. The goat’s curd, squashed beneath the squash, was not sufficiently sharp, flavoursome or copious to be noticeable. Indeed, had I not known it was there, I would not have known it was there.

A was far more impressed with his Omelette Arnold Bennett. Invented right there in the hotel, they really had to get this right. Light and fluffy, this concoction of eggs, cream cheese and haddock was tasty and rich without being overwhelming. Comfort food par excellence.

Feeling unusually kind, and A being my partner rather than my husband, I didn’t insist on the “dish-swap at half-time” arrangement we had agreed upon at the outset, and strangely enough, having looked at my tart, he didn’t mention it.

By this point, we had been asked if everything was to our satisfaction four times. Four times. That was not to my satisfaction.

Having gone slightly off-piste for the starter, I got right back onto the straight and narrow for the main course and had a perfectly cooked Dover sole meuniere. Beautifully presented, in a traditional copper pan, it was fresh and expertly prepared. Accompanied by chopped spinach, it was exactly as it should be. And for £38, (£42.75 after the “suggested” 12.5% service) you would expect nothing less.

A’s 35-day dry-aged 14oz rib-eye steak was also pronounced a great success. It certainly looked good from the outside. I’m not sure he’s qualified to opine on steak, being one of those strange breed who require the thing to be practically cremated, but he was happy. He couldn’t finish it. That wasn’t a comment on the quality of the steak. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen anything but a clean plate from him so you can draw your own conclusions about portion size. You will not go hungry.

We were obviously, therefore quite full by this point but, as you know, duty comes before comfort and taking our reviewing duties seriously, we managed to force ourselves to order a small desert, the Opera cake.

This is a chocolate and coffee sponge, topped by a chocolate ganache, with a side of milk and honey ice cream. It was good, competent and well presented, but it didn’t knock my socks off and make me go quiet, the benchmark test for a knock-out desert. We got to the three – quarters point, took a slight rest, and the waiter clearly decided we needed no more, because he came over and took it away. A part of me was happy; a part of me was not.

Now I admit it, I eat quickly. That doesn’t mean that I want my plate cleared within a millisecond of my last mouthful or indeed when I have not even taken my last mouthful. Do I look like somebody who leaves food on my plate? I don’t think so. It felt like we were being rushed and at these prices, that is not acceptable. I’m not sure whether they still operate the “table for 2 hours” policy but the waiting staff clearly seem to think so.

This is not at all a bad restaurant, but it is not the restaurant it would like you to think it is. It woos you with the promise of a traditional and luxurious dining experience and delivers a perfectly competent, but in no way memorable meal. It’s like getting into a Bentley and finding out that someone has replaced the engine with that of an Volvo: perfectly adequate but not very exciting.

• Best for : overseas clients (dare I say Americans) who seem to love that sort of thing
• Worst for : people for whom going to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant is akin to going to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical; a cheap date.

Rating 7/10
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