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Kaspar's Seafood Bar and Grill at The Savoy Hotel in London

Rating: 85.
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The Savoy. Let me start by saying that I love everything Savoy. The grand entrance with head doorman Tony Cortegaca, the lavishly decorated Thames foyer, the iconic American bar, the glamorous and extravagant Beaufort bar, the tea, the chocolates, the blue lift, the red lift, the hotel's illustrious history. No, there is nothing I dislike about the Savoy. Well, there was one thing actually: the rather bland River restaurant. I had lunch there just after the Savoy had re-opened in October 2010. I liked the food well enough, but unfortunately the restaurant had a certain soulless anonymity to it. So when the Savoy announced that they would be closing the River restaurant and relaunch it as Kaspar's Seafood Bar and Grill ('Kaspar's'), I immediately knew I had to check it out as soon as possible.

Kaspar's is named after Kaspar the cat, a 3 foot high wooden sculpture of a black cat, employed by the Savoy as the so-called "14th guest" to ward off bad luck. According to legend, South African diamond magnate Woolf Joel hosted a dinner at The Savoy in 1898 for fourteen guests and one cancelled at the last minute. The dinner continued with thirteen guests at the dinner table and one superstitious guest announced that death would come to the first person to leave the table of thirteen. Woolf Joel was the first to leave the table and a few weeks later he was shot dead in Johannesburg. To this day, Kaspar sits at dinner tables at The Savoy when there are only 13 (other) guests.

The restaurant has undergone extensive refurbishment and re-opened on 2 May 2013. The new art-deco style decor instantly made me forget the River restaurant. There's a brand new and very impressive seafood bar right in the middle of the restaurant and the colour scheme has changed from uninspired beige to bright and shiny turquoise with stylish, nautical and chrome details. The 1920s styling is much more in keeping with the traditions of The Savoy. Artist Jonty Hurwitz was commissioned by The Savoy to create a new Kaspar sculpture and his piece 'The 14th Guest' is proudly displayed at the entrance of the restaurant.

Head chef at Kaspar's is James Pare and the all-day dining menu offers a broad choice of starters, salads, fresh seafood, smoked and cured fish, mains (both meat and fish) and desserts. There's also a breakfast menu. Kaspar's is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had lunch at Kaspar's with my husband on Sunday 4 May 2013.

We started off with six freshly shucked, excellent Jersey Rock oysters, served with the traditional accompaniments, for a very reasonable £14.50. They were followed by a selection of smoked and cured fish. The menu offers a choice of 2 (£14) or 4 (£22). We had 4: Hot smoked sablefish (aka black cod), star anise cured salmon, traditional gravlax and citrus cured wild seabass. As you can see in the photograph, you don't get much fish for £22 at Kaspar's but even more importantly the salmon, gravlax and seabass were so thinly sliced that the curing flavours almost got completely lost. I don't expect to get a pound of fish on my plate for my starter, but these were just slivers. A slightly thicker cut would have made a world of difference. The smoked sablefish was nice and creamy but the paprika flavours were too subtle.

Next I had Kaspar's Lobster Club Sandwich with a chopped salad. Three slices of toasted light brown bread spread with garlic mayonnaise, with a filling of thinly sliced, wonderfully ripe and creamy avocado, crispy bacon, sweet tomato relish and a not very abundant quantity of lobster. I am being kind here: I am not sure I would have noticed the difference if they had put chicken in instead. The garlic mayonnaise and the sweet tomato relish were very much the dominant flavours in this sandwich, not the lobster. The chips that came with the sandwich were lovely, as was the chopped salad.

In his introduction to Le Guide Culinaire, he wrote: "My intention is to offer my colleagues a tool rather than merely a recipe book... something to be placed on a nearby shelf for easy reference... but that would leave them free to develop their own methods and follow their own inspiration."

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Dessert had to be Peach Melba. It was at the Savoy that Auguste Escoffier created this legendary dessert for Dame Nellie Melba in the early 1890s. In the introduction of Le Guide Culinaire Escoffier wrote: "My intention is to offer my colleagues a tool rather than merely a recipe book ....leave them free to develop their own methods and follow their own inspiration. The art of cooking, which in many ways is similar to that of fashion design, will evolve as society evolves. Only basic rules remain unalterable." I was happy to see that Peach Melba still features on the dessert menu and one can safely say that it has evolved: Peach Melba ice cream sandwich - layers of peach ice cream, vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce, sandwiched between two thick buttery biscuits. I loved the flavours - the combination of peach, vanilla and raspberry is unalterably delicious - but there was too much biscuit. Presentation was uninspired and uninspiring. If one didn't know better, one might almost think that it came from a factory rather than from the kitchens at The Savoy.

In his introduction to Le Guide Culinaire, he wrote: "My intention is to offer my colleagues a tool rather than merely a recipe book... something to be placed on a nearby shelf for easy reference... but that would leave them free to develop their own methods and follow their own inspiration." - See more at:
I would love to love Kaspar's and in a way I do, but let's not beat about the bush: the food is not yet up to par. It is still early days of course, but there really is more work to be done. In a way, it can't be easy, finding your own identity when you are a seafood bar AND a grill AND the main restaurant of a grand hotel like The Savoy - all rolled into one. This will obviously take some time, but in the orchard of improvements there is some low-hanging fruit that should and can be harvested without delay. The wine list might be revisited too; it is compact (which is a good thing) but it is neither very distinctive nor very inspired. Mark-ups that (including service charge) in some cases exceed 500% should surprise no one in a place like this but the good news is that all wines are available by the glass too. Lafite 1995 anyone? A 150ml glass is yours for £325 - plus service charge. I will gladly give Kaspar's the benefit of the doubt and I am confident that it will deserve it.

Kaspar's Seafood Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Posted 15-05-2013


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