The Marble Lobby of The Savoy – a portent of the delights of Kaspar’s Seafood Bar and Grill
There are hundreds of new places to go and be seen in all over London, but it is worth remembering, once in a while to frequent those icons of excellence, such as The Savoy Hotel because their reputations have been achieved for good reason.and this particular landmark building has been the beneficiary of a multi-million pound make-over.
Some might feel intimidated by such grand surroundings but amongst the grandeur is a dedicated staff that are proud of the excellence and reputation of The Savoy and are at pains to continue working to the same exacting standards for which the Savoy has been famous since Cesar Ritz was appointed General Manager by Richard D’Oyly Carte in 1889.
One of the notable improvements is Kaspar’s Seafood Bar & Grill. The approach to Kaspar’s is via an impressive walk through the marbled hall of The Savoy into the Thames Foyer, at the heart of the hotel, where their world renowned afternoon tea is served.
Kaspar’s Seafood Bar and Grill has been redesigned with an abundance of cut-glass and mirrors. With its silver leaf ceiling and chequer-board marble floor surrounding the central circular bar and Murano glass columns and pendant glass light fittings that look like stalactites, Kaspar’s decor is an inspired theatrical spectacle. It has replaced the River Restaurant and renamed in honour of Kaspar, the cat. Not a real cat but a sculpture created by Basil Ionides in 1926 at the request of The Savoy.
Kaspar’s story begins in 1898, when South African diamond magnate Woolf Joel suddenly died. Just before his death, Joel hosted a dinner at The Savoy for fourteen guests. At the last minute one of them cancelled. Joel decided the dinner should go ahead, but a more superstitious guest declared death would befall the first person to leave the table. Woolf Joel defiantly decided to take the gamble himself. Weeks later he was shot dead in Johannesburg.
Anxious to avoid a repeat of such ill fate, The Savoy decided to provide an extra guest for every table of thirteen. Initially the hotel had a member of staff sit amongst the diners, but this proved unpopular. Guests felt unable to discuss their private matters freely. So the hotel decided to offer Kaspar as the fourteenth guest. Kaspar is delighted, to this day, to join tables of thirteen – napkin round his neck, a full place-setting before him, ready to enjoy every course he is served.
No matter how theatrical the setting or whether Kaspar has honoured you with his presence, it is the food that should take centre stage and thankfully it does.
The menu is full of those classic dishes that one would expect from an iconic hotel such as the Savoy. However, there are also menus for pre or post theatre and for children now that the restaurant is open for all day dining to accommodate a less formal approach to meal times.
We sampled a selection of fish based dishes, although there was nothing on the menu that would have disappointed.
Delicious Mersea and Jersey Oysters
We started with three of each of the Jersey and West Mersea oysters and the Isle of Skye lobster cocktail, followed by a selection of their cured or smoked fish dishes, of which they are particularly proud with good reason. We chose traditional Dover sole for our main course and had it served with simple new potatoes and spinach. There is no point in messing about with such a delicious fish.
A Display of the Stunning Breads to compliment the fine food at Kaspar’s Seafood Bar and Grill
Whilst you are sitting there absorbing the atmosphere of being at one of the most famous hotel restaurant’s in the world, it is worth reflecting on its history and those whose experience you are now sharing.
The word ‘iconic’ is used far too freely these days, but the one place which warrants its use is the Savoy Hotel, built by Richard D’Oyly Carte in 1889. D’Oyly Carte had the good sense to employ, as previously mentioned, the very best staff, beginning with Cesar Ritz as the General Manager, and Auguste Escoffier as the first ‘Celebrity Chef’.
In fact the Savoy has been in the vanguard of many innovations. It was the first luxury hotel to have electricity which resulted in the installation of electric lifts, known as ‘ascending rooms’, and air conditioning. Twenty-four hour room service was introduced and each suite had private bathrooms with constant hot and cold running water in all bedrooms, and in the dining rooms, background music to entertain guests whilst dining.
All these innovations must have been a revelation to anyone staying at the Savoy in those days. In fact it became so fashionable and chic that aristocratic ladies, who once would not have been seen dining in public, found it sociably acceptable to be seen frequenting the Savoy and once the Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII, and his entourage patronised the establishment, the Savoy was made!
King George VI became the first reigning monarch to ‘dine in ‘, which caused a great stir, and shocked ‘Society’, something which was quite easy to do in those days. As Oscar Wilde once observed ‘It is a bore to be in ‘Society’, but a disaster not to be’.
Like all great establishments, The Savoy has been frequented by all the great and good, from Presidents and Prime Ministers to the infamous and famous.
However, no matter how grand, there comes a time for all great hotels to have a face lift and embrace modern improvements in comfort and communication.
And so in 2007 The Savoy closed for three years to undergo an extensive renovation and £220 million later (£120 million more than the original budget) The Savoy emerged grander but still with that same elegance and dignity of the original. Indeed it is a tribute to the new owner, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal that they managed to avoid the dangers of destroying the Edwardian charm of the original building, and its predominate Art Deco interiors.
Until our recent visit, I had not seen the ‘fruits of their labours’, which means that it is more than six years since I last entered the portals of this iconic hotel, and I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed by the sensitivity with which the work had been undertaken.
So often one goes to establishment hotels and restaurants and the ambiance and food are disappointing, but not so with the Savoy which has embraced the best of all things modern, and combined them with the finest traditions of the past, so that the new Savoy has not only emerged from the Chrysalis of the old Savoy, but is more beautiful than ever.
The history of The savoy Hotel is a long one from its creation in 1889 to its present newly refurbished existence today. If Richard D’Oyly Carte had not experienced the luxury of American hotels and had not recreated that standard to London, then London would have missed out on being the home to one of the most famous hotels in the world.
Robert Jarman has spent a lifetime observing and commenting on the habits and habitats of that endangered species, the British Aristocracy, including their houses, art collections, sports and pastimes.
He was a part-owner and Managing Director of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage, which he acquired and rescued from near extinction in 1976, and built into an international publishing company.
He published the catalogues for a number of major Exhibitions at the V&A and the Royal Academy in the UK, the Cooper Hewitt and MOMA in New York, and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
He also conceived and created an important contemporary reference book called, ‘People of Today’, first published in 1981which is the ultimate study of the UK’s most successful and influential people.
He is therefore well-qualified to publish and edit The Vintage Magazine, an on-line publication aimed at, but not limited to, the affluent and active, over 50s who number over 23 million in the UK, and control 80% of the wealth of the country.