Civilization in sausage: River Restaurant at the Savoy reviewed

When the Tory Party went up in flames last week, a restaurateur said to me, “Don’t worry, Tanya, we’ll still be here when it’s over.” She was packing a scotch egg like she said, and it’s very true. There’s a calming continuity to restaurants: no matter how cool the hell people need to eat. I’ll know civilization is over when I can’t get sausage at the Savoy Hotel.

It is always said that the Savoy has the only ramp in Brittany on which you drive on the right. This is the least interesting.

It is, for example, the only hotel in London built as a retirement home for lovers of light opera (now musical theatre). The Savoy Theater is still playing A pretty woman, a musical that lies about the emotional state of sex workers in song. It is also the only London hotel built on the site of a medieval palace which was burnt down during the Peasants’ Revolt – London’s police problems are nothing new – and therefore the only London hotel whose predecessor appears in the historical romance novel. Katherine by Anya Seton, who lies about medieval aristocrats not smelling. For all these reasons I love Savoie. The interior is by Collinson & Locke, who designed the sets for the D’Oyly Carte productions, so among other things, it looks like a theater that forgot, or couldn’t afford, to dismantle its sets. If you come here you basically enter The Mikado, The Penzance Pirates and Utopia, limited.

I’m here for breakfast at the River Restaurant. The Savoy operates a rolling caravan of restaurants, many of which involve Gordon Ramsay, who was last seen jumping out of a helicopter and into the sea for some reason. Maybe he won’t come back. It does not matter. The names of these restaurants are very literal: The Grill; Restaurant 1890; the River Restaurant. I guess the Savoy reached its peak when it bought Simpson’s in the Strand in 1898, which must be painful knowing that your best days are over a century behind you. I will resist a Brexit metaphor.

To get to the River Restaurant, you have to walk through what was once considered good taste: the stage sets. Looks like the cinematic montage of Rocky, except Rocky is an occasional chair. The room is in monochrome marble, as at Claridge’s. And then there’s a wall of orchids – as if a member of a traveling wedding show escaped and ran towards it – a giant aviary with no birds – are they dead? – and a windowless room with portraits of deceased celebrities and a painting of the Queen on loan from the British Red Cross, who probably don’t want it. There’s also racist statuary and, to make matters worse, a diamond necklace.

The River Restaurant was once Kaspar’s, named after a cat sculpture that sat at the table at the Savoy when diners numbered 13, but Kaspar wasn’t popular so they gave the room to Gordon Ramsay instead, who thought it over and named it for the river beyond the window. Stupidity is nothing new. Kaspar’s was like Oslo Court for the good guys, I wrote when it first opened, and so was the River Restaurant. The decoration is a vile mixture of marble, leather and wool; the menu is generic and over-colored; the mood is a cruise ship docked in disappointing seas.

The River Restaurant isn’t quite Utopia, Limited, but it’s pretty close. Few things are better than an English breakfast in an empty dining room by the Thames, and this one is good: big, overcooked and old-fashioned, like the room. Restaurant review is a search for dark places, and one day I will regress to the cave.

“Much longer in this slow protest and we will miss our canceled flight.”

The Savoy, 100 Strand, London WC2; Phone. : 020 7836 4343

About Marco C. Nichols

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