Damien Mccrystal

Sorry, traditional fare’s off

The Savoy Grill is no longer the place to be seen. Damien McCrystal on the sad decline of a once great restaurant

Nobody I know goes to the Savoy Grill any more. It used to be a place to be seen – probably the most important such restaurant in the business community. The staff were dressed formally, delivering a discreet and respectful service. Customers were addressed by their titles, where such existed. The food was reminiscent of country-house cooking – or, sometimes, school dinners – and seldom surprised the palate. The wine list was deeply traditional, with, of course, a heavy emphasis on claret. No one snapped their fingers at waiters, because a politely raised eyebrow would do the job. No one turned up in T-shirts and shorts, and no one brought young children. The Grill was a glorious throwback to the England before multiculturalism, classless societies, royal exposés and general uncertainty. And its proximity to the City gave it access to a large body of people – the largest left in Britain – who still held such values in high esteem.

It was never, contrary to newspaper reports, known as the ‘City’s canteen’. (I suspect that was a throwaway line in a diary column or some such many years ago, picked up and used to the point of ubiquity by Savoy press officers, feature writers and restaurant reviewers alike.) But it was a grand place to impress one’s associates, particularly if the ma–tre d’, Angelo Maresca, knew you by name, and most particularly if you were well enough established to have your own regular table. The most sought-after tables were those with banquettes diagonally across the room from the entrance. Perhaps they achieved their prestigious reputation because they offered greater privacy or because those seated there had a sweeping view of the whole room. At any rate, they were the tables where important men – former prime ministers, leading company chairmen, senior City figures and so forth – were placed.

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