We’ve ranted before about the ‘Ramsayfication’ of London’s top hotels and restaurants — that disturbing process of homogenisation that has led to there being very few unique, doing-it-their-way establishment where you could be sure of a martini made just the way you like it in a place thick with the glamorous ghosts of riotous times past. However, The Savoy has relaunched the Savoy Grill under Ramsay’s direction – after Marcus Wareing jumped ship – to great fanfare and a curiously empathetic, well-judged nod to the past, retaining the much-loved meat trolley, dishes such as Omelette Arnold Bennett and lobster Thermidor and going loco on proper British meat such as mutton, steak, venison and veal. It seems that, here at least, Gordo’s back on form.
So it puzzles us, to say the least, that Ramsay’s heretofore unnoticed sensitivity and understanding of a historic quintessentially British dining experience hasn’t been extended to the rest of the Savoy hotel, namely the much-missed River Restaurant, closed since 2004 and now re-opened under chef Ryan Murphy. Having spent gazillions of pounds not only on Art Deco refurbishment but apparently on actually keeping the building standing, you’d think the management might take a moment to appreciate the innate history and rhythm of its dining places; what do the punters want, nay, need in a capital awash on a sea of Heston-a-like foams and purées?
Well clearly they think what it needs is more of the same. So on a restaurant menu allegedly created in a ‘modern French simplicity of style’ with much made of local and seasonal ingredients, we see not only candied black olives, Chardonnay gelée and Tonka beans, we also get tomatoes, sorrel, mangetout, green and runner beans… Tonka beans, schmonka beans. What happened to those Escoffier creations of Peach Melba and Melba toast? Where’s the sense of occasion and theatre?
And so far, the critics are hating it. There’s no mention of the dessert menu on the Savoy website, so one is left yearning to know what exactly the chef’s ‘homage’ to Peach Melba is that had AA Gill’s knickers in such a twist. Male diners are no longer required to wear jackets, according to Michael Winner, distraught to see fellow gluttons in casual wear – and apparently the food wasn’t much cop either. The chef and the management seem to have, in one fell swoop, erased over a hundred years of history and created a menu that on paper appears like a badly-arranged singles night – ingredients paired with others that have nothing to say to one another and end up fighting on the plate.
What’s your take on it? Is there such a thing as a culinary duty towards tradition and history? Should the past be allowed to rule over the present or is the chef doing a fine brave thing, ploughing on towards the future and its candied black olives? And should there be a dress rule in restaurants? Are you offended by diners in jeans and t-shirts or are you an eat-and-let-live type?