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Living North’s Christmas Fairs

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Living North’s Christmas Fairs
The Savoy Hotel entrance
Travel
March 2016
Reading time 10 minutes

Monet sketched Waterloo Bridge from the balcony, Marilyn Monroe had dress fittings there, and Wills and Harry used to pop in for a drink. Living North were invited South to find out what makes The Savoy so special

We ended up falling in love with it too.

There was a point on the final evening of my stay at the Savoy where I realised that it was 2am, and that I’d been in bed watching the BBC News channel for 45 minutes. Immediately afterwards, I realised that I’d done so because I couldn’t face actually going to sleep. That would mean it’d be morning before I knew it, and when morning came I’d have to leave the hotel.

My stay had begun with a bite at Melba, the Savoy’s deli on the Strand – the smoked salmon and rocket muffin is highly recommended – which gives an eminently affordable taste of the quality which runs throughout the hotel. My room, a Deluxe King, featured a marble-clad en-suite bathroom in which the showerhead was the size of a dustbin lid. A wander around the building with archivist Susan Scott was instructive. Aside from the Art Deco and Edwardian design features which give the Savoy its characteristic glamour, we dropped in on the Royal Suite, former haunt of Chaplin, Astaire, Bogart, Bacall and multiple maharajas, and which could be yours for just £12,000 per night. It comes with sublime views across the Thames, a handmade mattress and a butler so, on balance, it’s really very good value.

Then, it was on to the kitchens where we were met by Loic Carbonnet, the bright, patient Pastry Chef. Under his tutelage I ham-fistedly approximated his delicate, lighter-than-air raspberry eclairs; to watch Loic’s work, from making the choux to spinning caramel into decorative shards, was deeply impressive.  

Later, it was time for cocktails in the Beaufort Bar, formerly a haunt of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret; with its black and gold colour scheme and the lights down low, it’s the most overtly Jazz Age room in the building and the cocktails are suitably extravagant. Theatrical flourishes are the sort of thing the Savoy does better than anyone else, and having orange zest being spritzed and ignited across one’s glass in such a setting felt completely right.

We ate at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, a former chess club and coffeehouse turned restaurant doing high-end British classics. My saddle of lamb was cut in front of me, as per tradition (diners were originally served at their tables in order to avoid pulling chess players away from their games) and was exquisite: rich, deep and tender to the point of melting, and rightly given the entire dinner plate to itself while the sides – four exquisitely roasted potatoes and Savoy cabbage – orbited separately. After finishing with sticky toffee pudding, a Simpson’s trademark, I wandered along the North bank of the Thames to aid digestion. 

Next morning, after smoked haddock for breakfast, I popped into the spa. I’d assumed my scalp rub treatment would be mildly diverting, but after being plied with oils for half an hour I was utterly stupefied, in the best possible sense. I was so relaxed I left my keycard behind in the changing rooms twice and was still fairly dazed when we began afternoon tea in the Thames Foyer, a chintzy, bright super-parlour with a wrought iron bandstand in the centre. Four courses later, I was further befuddled, not just be the abundance of food but by its quality: the dainty sandwiches packed a flavourful punch, especially the vegetarian options, and the Bafta-inspired cake selection – popcorn, film reels and macaroons done up to look like the gongs themselves – was a joy. Best of all, though, were the vast slabs of Victoria sponge cake, dense and moist and just the right shade of sweetness. A glass of Louis Roederer Brut Premier champagne finished things off very tidily.

Later on, we met up in the American Bar, less outwardly glam than the Beaufort but with equally flashy drinks. Their take on a Flying Scotsman was a highlight, the classically moreish combination of Glenfiddich whisky and Savoy vermouth gussied up with egg white foam and a drop of ash on top to recreate the famous old engine’s funnel. From the London Menu – on which all the drinks are themed after London’s boroughs, naturally – there was the appropriately fresh and meadowy gin-based Green Park, and Pickering Place, a two-part cocktail served with an iPad showing an especially produced film detailing a fight between the American Bar’s two bartenders over how Frank Sinatra took his whisky. Obviously.

From there we headed to Kasper’s, the Savoy’s seafood restaurant. Scallops with beetroot risotto were followed by a smoked salmon and sea bass platter, and that in turn by oysters from the West Mersey and Jersey, and finally pan-fried hake. All were beyond reproach, cooked and seasoned with minimal fuss to let the delicate flavours of the fish come through.

Finally, back in the Thames Foyer there was the Chocolate Temptation experience, wherein a wheel of cocktails, desserts and chocolate slabs, all co-ordinated according to their relative richness, was presented to us. Having had a frankly ludicrous amount of seafood by this point, the lighter, citrusy options appealed. 

And then there I was, sat on the bed, trying to ignore how little time there was left. The next morning did come eventually, and with it the tartest eggs benedict I’ve ever tasted – the bacon’s tang cut straight through the hollandaise perfectly – before I had to trudge slowly toward the doors.

The problem with a lot of hotels which aren’t quite as confident in themselves and their history as the Savoy is that they over-reach themselves, and create an atmosphere which makes you feel stifled and unworthy. At the Savoy, though, there was the strange illusion of time not passing: in this frictionless sanctuary, where nothing is ever too much trouble (the chef opened the kitchen early so that I could have breakfast before my train home, which was incredibly kind) and the champagne bottles are bottomless, you’d never guess you were in the middle of eight million other people in Greater London. There’s a distinctly British sense to it too. In spite of the references to the Jazz Age and Hollywood’s golden years, it never feels overwhelmed by its own past or hurried by the present; it feels like it just exists on a parallel plane. 

As I stumbled out onto the Strand, I looked about in a daze. Where was the nice man to carry my bags? Why wasn’t anyone calling me ‘sir’? Who could I trust to rub my scalp? The only drawback of staying at the Savoy, I found, is that real life will feel completely inadequate afterwards.

For more information visit: www.fairmont.com/savoy-london/

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