The host of London: the Savoy Hotel

Location, location, location: The Savoy has occupied one of the best spots overlooking the river Thames since it was built in 1889 by impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte (Picture: Niall Clutton)

If the best view in London is from the centre of Waterloo Bridge, the one from our seventh-floor corner suite at the Savoy runs a close second. The bedroom and sitting room look out over the Festival Hall, the thronging South Bank and the graceful upstream curve of the Thames past Westminster. The window in the entrance hall (effectively another room, with its own guest loo) perfectly frames St Paul’s.

It was hard, throughout our weekend stay, to tear ourselves away from that view, and our suite’s warmly embracing Savoir bed, Loewe television, Meridien iPod docks, lovely selection of books (Wodehouse, Waugh, Roy Strong) and well-stocked minibar. But that would have been to miss the many other delights of this magnificent London institution.

The Savoy marked its 125th anniversary last Wednesday. Built in 1889 by impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte next to his Savoy Theatre, expanded on the Strand side and reconfigured in 1904, the hotel is where César Ritz and Auguste Escoffier made their names. It was pivotal in the development of lifts, electric lighting, fine dining, socialising, music, broadcasting and the creation of potent cocktails.

When it closed for a £100 million refurbishment in 2007 major structural faults were discovered and the cost and length of the refit spiralled. But the Savoy reopened in 2010 with its façade and interiors reborn, with a new bar, new restaurant, new shops and nine new “personality” suites reflecting famous guests such as Claude Monet, Marlene Dietrich and Noël Coward.

I knew a lot of this lore already but learned a lot more from one of the tours that the hotel’s archivist, Susan Scott, is running to coincide with the anniversary. It is the quirks of the Savoy’s history, its ravishing mix of Edwardian and Art Deco design, and the Moebius-strip geometry as it rambles downhill toward the Thames, that make the hotel special.

That and the service. From the doorman to the check-in clerk to the head butler, Kasia, who greeted us at our suite, the welcome is impeccable, though I was too embarrassed by the cheapness of our clothes to let her unpack and press them. Oh, and the location is pretty good, too, slap bang between the City, West End and South Bank.

Height of luxury: the view from a one-bedroom suite (Picture: Niall Clutton)

While I toured the hotel with Susan, my wife Ann had her hair cut in Soho, and we met for lunch at Ceviche on Frith Street. Rather visit one of the packed major museums and galleries on a weekend, I’d recommend some smaller, more unusual institutions nearby: the John Soane or Hunterian museums in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, or Benjamin Franklin’s House on Craven Street.

We kicked off the evening with cocktails in the hotel’s Beaufort Bar, beside the Thames Foyer where afternoon tea is served. Formerly home to the bandstand and a hydraulic dancefloor in the heyday of Savoy concerts from the Thirties to the Eighties, this is a gorgeous room of black and gold, where elaborate cocktails are served in antique glasses and finished and “explained” at your table. I found the faff around this a little too much, though my Coco, inspired by Coco Chanel, was both pretty and pokey, and the Impressionist, which comes with its own canister of “London fog” (dry ice) was camply fun.

Then it was on to Kaspar’s, the Savoy’s Thames-side restaurant, now renamed for the elegant Art Deco cat sculpted by Basil Ionides to occupy an extra chair whenever 13 guests gather. This place had been a bit disappointing when it reopened in 2010 as the River Restaurant but it has now been recast as a seafood bar and grill, complementing the Savoy Grill on the Strand side. It has also been decorated in a bold version of the Savoy’s black and green livery, the most successful modern take so far on the hotel’s Deco heritage.

The smoked and cured fish here is to die for, and a whole roast sea bream for two was simply brilliant. We drank excellent carafes of 2013 St Veran and 2012 Chablis, and then selected a gloriously pungent selection from the cheese menu helpfully classified as Stinky, Oozy and Gorgeous etc. A white chocolate sphere, the Peach Melba Sensation, was a winningly theatrical version of the dish created here for Dame Nellie Melba that bursts open when sauce is added.

Top notch: Kaspar's restaurant

We would have slept very well were it not for some bass-heavy late-night electronica concert which, given how high up we were, could have come from anywhere. It was not the Savoy’s fault. Breakfast of poached eggs and bacon, served piping hot in our room, was excellent.

Sunday morning was for shopping, on Oxford and Regent Streets rather than in the Savoy’s eye-poppingly pricey Boodles outlet, or the charming, Bond Street-style patisserie and tea merchant that has been created behind reception.

After lunch at nearby Mishkin’s it was time for a champagne river tour with commentary on the Silver Darling, a sumptuous motor launch that takes a maximum dozen people, from the Savoy Pier in front of the hotel — another new service. Again, even with my nerdish knowledge of the river and its buildings, I learned a lot.

After this I had the Savoy’s swimming pool — which was sneaked onto the roof of the theatre when it was rebuilt following the 1993 fire — to myself for half an hour while Ann sampled the La Labo bath products.

Our butler had booked us into The Ivy for dinner, and shined my shoes for the purpose. Beforehand we had a dry martini or two in the sleek, cream American Bar, which is pretty much the ideal confluence of setting and strong mixed drinks.

That ensured a better night’s sleep and we awoke refreshed on Monday to another fine breakfast and that impeccable view, wishing we didn’t have to go to work. I could, I thought as we regretfully left this splendid place, seriously get used to the Savoy.

The Savoy, Strand, WC2, has junior suites from £640 B&B. To celebrate the Savoy’s 125th anniversary, guests booking three consecutive nights in a suite will receive the third night for £125 B&B (available until December 30, 2014),

TAGS: , ,
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest