The current trend towards more casual, informal dining has now embraced one of the bastions of grand hotel formality – The Savoy River Restaurant. Renamed Kaspar’s Seafood Bar and Grill after the hotel’s celebrated resident cat, it now offers all day dining from a contemporary menu featuring the delights of land and sea.
The décor, furniture and fittings of the dining room, however, are anything but casual in style and appearance. In keeping with the Savoy’s reputation for opulence and luxury, black marble floor and walls, large mirrors and brass railings give a sleek and glossy finish. The silver leaf ceiling accentuates the art deco theme. Undressed tables – perhaps the most obvious salute to casual dining – are large and well-spaced, whilst seating of leather banquettes and chairs in ocean blue give a modern, sophisticated feel.
At the centre of the room is the magnificent circular oyster bar distinguished by its “James Bond” style extending tables and the fish like Murano glass pendants glittering from the ceiling. The bread and cheese area, with its attractive displays from the in-house bakery, is another pleasing feature of the remodelled room.
Head Chef James Pare indulges his passion for seafood by offering a wide selection of fish and shellfish. A choice of five smoked fish includes the unusual hot smoked sable fish with paprika, whilst beetroot halibut and star anise salmon feature amongst the cured varieties. Shellfish is offered in abundance, whether in poached lobster with garlic mayonnaise as a starter, prawns in an Indonesian salad, or in the signature Kaspar’s lobster club sandwich. Most glorious of all are the platters of fruits de mer featuring poached prawns, seasonal oysters, seared scallops and crab, the Royal version including lobster. Fresh fish feature in a starter of yellow fine tuna tartare and mains ranging monkfish kebabs to Thai green seafood curry.
Burgers, steaks, salads and pasta dishes are amongst the non-piscine choices which also include those brasserie classics, snails with herb butter and steak tartare. Clearly this is a menu to satisfy all tastes and preferences, from the grandest to more humble offerings. The brigade of 21 chefs, cooking for up to 300 covers a day, is clearly well prepared for the range of dishes.
Chef James Pare stresses the importance of good sourcing as fundamental to the success of the menu. Seafood deliveries occur six times a week: scallops and lobsters from Scotland; crabs and sole from Cornwall. The Cheese Cellar supplies mainly British artisan cheeses with some French classics. His primary aim is customer satisfaction through consistency in the quality of cooking. Whilst 30% of diners are staying at the hotel, there is considerable walk-in trade which he wants to maintain with his wide ranging menu. The smoked sand shrimp and eel cocktail, snails, fish bar items and the lobster sour dough club sandwich have proved early best sellers.
Fine Dining Guide visited Kaspar’s for dinner in mid May.
The sour dough and baguettes offered were accomplished in their crisp crusts and firm crumb.
Snails, served in a cast iron dish rather than in their individual shells, were plump, soft and well flavoured. They would have been even better if more parsley was added to the garlic butter to give that aromatic persillade touch.
Seared scallops were accurately timed to produce a caramelised crust and delicate, translucent flesh. The accompanying tomato verbena jam was beautifully balanced in its sweet and acidic qualities which complemented the seafood perfectly.
Royal fruits de mer, sheer heaven for seafood lovers, was served on a magnificent platter of ice, in classic brasserie style. The poached lobster, so often overcooked to resemble cotton wool in even the best restaurants, retained its soft, sweet succulence. The claw meat, extracted from its shell in one piece, partnered a seared scallop and white crab meat, all exemplary in taste and texture. Crevettes were plump and not too salty, as can often be the case. A minor disappointment were the oysters which were served minus their natural juices, making them easier to eat but less enjoyable, despite the shallot vinegar and Tabasco condiments. It was pleasing, however, to see a choice of mayonnaise and Marie Rose sauce, both well made, and lemon halves properly wrapped in muslin.
In the old River Restaurant, a whole grilled Dover sole would have been filleted at the table in typical Gueridon fashion. Here, it was branded and taken apart in the kitchen, making it diner friendly but taking way some of the joy of restaurant theatre. That said, this king of fish was perfectly cooked, its firm texture and distinct flavour being enhanced by a classic garnish of beurre noisette spiked with capers.
A platter of three artisan cheeses, all in perfect condition, was enjoyed with quince jelly and grapes.
A choice of nine desserts includes British and French classics such as sticky toffee pudding and apple tarte tatin. A reinvention of Peach Melba, in the form of an ice cream sandwich, might fit the casual dining theme but did not do justice to this iconic dessert. Much better was the Valrhona manjari chocolate sphere – destroyed when a warm passion fruit sauce is poured over it.
Service is young, solicitous and well managed. The wine list comprises more Old World than New, with some good value bottles and others in line with the Savoy tradition! The enthusiastic sommelier Aristotle suggested an exquisite white burgundy – Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2007 Bertrand Ambroise – which partnered the seafood wonderfully.
Overall, The Savoy deserves to succeed in its new, ground breaking, venture. Trying to satisfy a wide variety of tastes in an all-day offering has its potential disadvantages, but this is what the market increasingly wants and the hotel is moving with the times. We shall watch its progress with interest.