There may be some debate among hotel snobs about which of London’s three most historic, legendary hotels are the best. But, if we’re talking glamour, there is only one grand dame: The Savoy. Claridges may be understated and The Dorchester discreet, but The Savoy is pure, unapologetic sparkle. It’s a place that, no matter how many fine hotels you may inhabit, inspires a sense of wonder and privilege and gratitude upon stepping inside those 120-year old walls.
A number of ‘firsts’ occurred at The Savoy – it was the first hotel in London to have an electric elevator, the first to have electric lighting, the first to offer ensuite bathrooms. Even before there were telephones, bedrooms were connected to the valet, maid and a waiter through speaking tubes.
Service is as much a part of The Savoy’s heritage as it’s swanky interiors and famous clientele. It was among the first to set up its own hospitality school to cater to guests such as Winston Churchill and Claude Monet (yes, it’s that old). The hotel’s chauffer drives a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
After a three-year renovation, the hotel re-opened in 2010, it’s 1920s décor gleaming. And with it, Kaspar’s, a seafood grill, took over the riverside dining space. Part of the pleasure of visiting the Savoy, even if just for a coffee, is wandering through it’s public spaces, so the stroll through the Conservatory, straight back to Kaspar’s, is all part of the experience.
The room is a step back in time – art deco, with a seafood bar occupying the centre of the room and covers for solo diners or couples, New York-style, with comfortable-looking stools.
We’re shown to a corner banquette, where we happily take a view of the room, rather than the river. The river is a view for tourists. The view of the room, for those of us fascinated by the theatre of it all. It’s how we notice the wide range of guests – some have come for a big night out, another table is surrounded by Hollywood-types, and then there’s a quiet Middle Eastern couple, casually dressed residents of the hotel. The mix of different diners is okay, and we’re not keen on dress codes, in general, but something about seeing guests wearing jeans in a dining room at the Savoy, feels sacrilege.
The menu is an all-day affair, with simply cooked grilled meats, along with comfort-food favourites, like Laksa curry. We order from the raw bar: ceviche and tuna tartare. There’s a list of sushi and sashimi available, but Cornish shellfish proves a positive distraction. The best dish is a surprise. Scallops on a bed of beetroot risotto are a triumph: both earthy, and delicate, without being overly sweet. Cocktails are the things to order here, and a Kasparette, with elderflower and champagne, is light and refreshing.
The Savoy is where two Melba’s were made famous: Peach Melba and Melba toast, both in honour of Australian operatic soprano Dame Nellie Melba. Legend has it that the hotel’s French chef Auguste Escoffier created the dessert of peaches and raspberry sauce with vanilla ice cream, and the dry toast, for the singer during her stay in the late 19th century. We can’t think of a better way to end the meal, until we’re brought dark chocolate lime ganache lollipops, which may lack the famous name, but leave a lingering memory.