Published 10 March 1996 Style Magazine 140th article
Dessert storm: Steve Yildiz and Vanessa Perry in the River Room (Arnold Crust)
I had an awful Sunday lunch at the Savoy recently. When I was a kid my parents used to rotate lunch on Sunday between Claridge's, the Dorchester and the Savoy Grill. Business has dropped so much, the Savoy Grill no longer opens on Sundays at all! You're stuck with the main, supposedly river-view restaurant. I stopped going to the Grill some years ago. I'd had ghastly lunch service, the veg all wrong, slow, a total mess. I told the head waiter on the way out. In a broad, loud, cockney accent his reply was: "Give over, guv! Give us a bleeding Chance!" This sort of dialogue in the posh confines of the Savoy so shook me I never returned until Vanessa's birthday party last year when, you may remember, after I had left the restaurant, they threatened to incarcerate her while they decided if I (who had booked and been there) was likely to pay the bill! The general manager of the Savoy, Duncan Palmer, later behaved like a true gent. He sent personal letters of apology and a Savoy bathrobe to every guest (and me) and some flowers as well to Vanessa.
I doubt if the new Granada Owners will finance him to have a serious "re-do" of the restaurant, but hopefully the Sultan of Brunei or some other nice man with an eye for quality will take over and permit it, because it's a big disaster. First of all, Steve Yildiz, the assistant manager, led me to the worst table anyone has tried to palm off on me in living memory. It was tiny and boxed in a corner, with a large group the other side. It would have been inadequate for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs if six dwarfs and Snow White were dining elsewhere. As Mr Yildiz walked there to pull out a chair, I turned and went in another direction. "Are you crazy?" I asked. "Showing me that!" "It's the best table in the room," said Mr Yildiz, either ignorant or shameless. I looked around and picked a larger table by a pillar. Even that wasn't my usual table-for-four size.
The place was about a third full of people who all looked like middleclass day-trippers. We ordered two buck's fizz. I noticed Mr Yildiz didn't ask if we wanted mineral water. Much later, Vanessa said: "They should have been here with the wine list by now." "Don't rush," I said. "Let them hang themselves." Eventually the wine list arrived. We were given special freebies of langoustine in filo pastry with a mango sauce. It was the only really good thing we ate. My seafood ravioli starter was pink tasteless stuff in pasta. Bland to the point of extinction. Vanessa liked her melon, but I tasted it and thought it far from the best.
By now the room itself was wearying me. It all looked tired, no unity of style, pillars like this here. like that there. Unbelievably horrid sunken lights in the ceiling, the sort that were fashionable in the early 1970s for offices. All needs gutting, I thought. The size of the table was beginning to irritate me greatly. "Look," I said to Mr Yildiz, as the main course came. "We're having to move the ashtray to make room." "Well, you don't smoke," he said, smiling as if he had made a real funny. The beef on the trolley was near the end of its life. Only a little bit stuck up from the bone. It may have been all right when it started, but now it was well past its best.
"Why didn't you get some more in?" I asked Mr Y. "There weren't enough people to warrant it," he said. The sort of answer you'd expect in a caff in Balham. And, earlier, when I'd asked him to have the kitchen make fresh Yorkshire pudding for me, as they do happily at all other good hotels, Mr Yildiz's expression was as if I'd asked for a free magnum of 1961 Petrus. Reluctantly, they did some newly made yorkshire and it was pretty good. The beef was, at best. adequate, the carrots so tough they were raw heated. The roast potatoes were soggy.
The dessert trolley looked all right and my chocolate mousse cake was not at all bad, Vanessa's strawberry millefeuille was okay, but the millefeuille was soggy. The petits fours were ghastly beyond belief. Why, I thought, should they get them from a different supplier to Claridge's in the same group? Theirs are great. On my Sunday-lunch scale, I give the Savoy 5½, compared with Claridge's 9, Dorchester and French Horn 8½, Ritz and Four Seasons 6½, Connaught 5, Lanesborough 2, Kartouche and Temple, Bishopstrow, 1. Forget all other "gradings". Believe only me!
Several weeks ago, when my husband and I were planning a weekend trip to London to see our daughter, I was drawn to Michael Winner's statement that Claridge's was the best place in London for afternoon tea. We decided we would put this on the agenda for the Saturday afternoon. It would be pricey, but it was unlikely that our daughter would want to accompany us (too Establishment). Wrong, actually, our daughter did want to come. After a morning travelling from one side of London to another, we headed for Claridge's. Daughter had made a conscious effort at my request clean leggings and boots. Husband was smartly casual in sports jacket and shirt and I was in my best Windsmoor. We entered the foyer, which had a distinctly chilly air in spite of the log fire in a corner grate, and the men in the uniforms weren't friendly. We advanced towards the lounge, but were stopped in our tracks. My husband was "not suitably dressed" he was tie-less, although this "could be sorted out". Daughter and I left my husband in the foyer to fend for himself and proceeded to the lounge area, where we were advised: "Unfortunately, madam, the tables for afternoon tea are fully booked." Oh dear. Had we been found wanting in other areas? Did I miss an exclusivity clause in Mr Winner's article?
Ann Senior, Clitheroe, Lancs
What a pleasant relief to find that we are not the only people who loathe Kensington Place. Our group of four was subjected to the most disgraceful display of nerve (it cannot be called "service") and rudeness we have ever experienced in years of dining out. The restaurant thrives on the maximum number of people eating in the minimum possible amount of time. This attitude is patently obvious in the behaviour of the waiting staff, management and appalling quality of food. It never fails to amaze us that every time we pass the restaurant it is full of misguided people who think they are getting value for money. We still can't decide whether it was a memorable experience or one that cannot be forgotten. Suffice to say that none of the party has ever returned there. Hats off to Michael Winner we agree with you on this one!
Jacqueline Goymour, London NW2