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Game is in season!
Clifford Mould went along to The Savoy Grill to enjoy it at its best

Autumn already - evenings drawing in - anger and frustration at such a lousy summer, its few sunny days barely a memory. But there are always compensations to be had at the table - the game season is well underway, and it was to the warm glow of the Savoy Grill that I hastened to dispel those late October blues.

Game is always on the a la carte menu at the Savoy Grill, but every year Chef Simon Scott likes to present a special menu which not only celebrates Britain's wondrous harvest of wild meats, but also uses the rich profusion of fungal delights that the autumn season offers. Although the Savoy Grill is one of the great guardians of traditional British gastronomy, (under-rated only by those ignorant of its particular delights), current trends have not passed by unnoticed. I observed many beautifully decorated "cheffie" creations pass my table, but it was equally satisfying to see skilled waiters taking grilled sole off the bone and carving chateaubriand steaks at the table.

23 October - 4 November 2000

  • Cream of Pheasant flavoured with Lentils
  • Game Rillette with prune and apple chutney
  • Cep 'Tarte Tatin' with Wood Pigeon Salad, Sauce Epice
  • Venison Raviolis in Wild Mushroom Bouillon
  • Roasted Squab Pigeon with Savoy Cabbage and Roast Parsnips
  • Breast of Wild Duck with Confit Leg, Celeriac Fondant and Red Cabbage
  • Loin of Venison with Puy Lentils and Fondant Potatoes
  • Every day at both lunch and dinner there are different dishes of the day redolent of the sumptuous traditions of Edwardian and Victorian dining, though many dishes have their origins in simple farmhouse cooking. If I were free for lunch on a Monday I'd go for the braised oxtail and marrowbone, and then return the following week for the Lancashire Hotpot. Wednesday would see me checking out the steak and kidney pie, but every day there are traditional roasts like beef with Yorkshire pudding, or the saddle of lamb which looked particularly good.

    Elsewhere on the a la carte are those dishes which, it seems, only the grandest dining rooms are able to offer, or more to the point, are capable of executing in their true form. Some of them hark back to days of Escoffier, who made his name at the Savoy. If they are not on the menu that day, so what? Diehard Savoyards order them anyway, and they are never disappointed. Here the guest is king or queen, and you feel that nothing is too much trouble, they so much want you to enjoy yourselves. Amongst the a la carte list of meat and poultry were roasted pheasant, loin of venison, partridge and grouse - so why the need for a special game menu? Wasn't this a case of overkill, I asked Chef Scott.

    He explained that the opportunity to create an integrated game menu gives the kitchen an additional and interesting challenge. Chef Scott also likes to combine game with that other seasonal harvest of the woods - wild mushrooms - because the marriage of all those wild flavours is irresistible. My guest, a wine writer form Bordeaux, tried the cream of pheasant, a rich, smooth veloute with crunchy lentils lurking at the bottom of the bowl. I had the venison ravioli, the pasta stuffed with an honest coarse grained haché of deer meat and wild mushrooms beautifully presented with a tangy jus.

    My Bordelais friend continued with the loin of venison, which was pink and delicious and came in another very modern presentation, the slices wrapped around a centrepiece of spinach stuffed with the lentils. By now Monsieur was getting tired of Puy lentils - "we have these back in France" he protested, but it didn't detract from his appreciation of the cooking generally which he pronounced was as good as anything he'd expect back home. I couldn't resist straying from the special game menu as I wanted to see how the Savoy Grill would tackle grouse. As I had hoped, it was magnificent. The key was in selecting a bird that had not been machine gunned to the ground, its relatively unscathed flesh well hung so as to develop those flavours which, when raw should make even the most experienced cook wonder for split second whether the bird is still edible. Of course it is, not only edible, but a concerto of flavour and texture. All the trimmings were there, most appreciated of all, a tiny portion of puissant paté and the most highly flavoured gravy, Deo Gratias!

    There is a cheese trolley with both French and English cheeses - both excellent - but don't miss the chance to try some really good hand made English cheese in perfect condition. Then there is the dessert trolley, that anathema of food critics. But this one is so grand, so baroque, so utterly retro, and so laden with goodies that it doesn't matter any more. I spied a bread and butter pudding. Aha, I thought, I'll catch them out here! The top was studded with sultanas which must have become burned and bitter, as the bread topping had browned to lovely golden glaze. But of course the sultanas were fine, having been carefully caramelised separately and added later to finish off the dish.

    Our pudding was washed down by a stylish Muscat de Beaumes de Venise from Domaine de Bernadin and before that we had a pleasant 1993 Burgundy, a Nuits-Saint-Georges from the ever reliable Faiveley, both wines suggested by our charming sommelier Nicola Frediani. The front of house staff appeared to be an all Italian side, and they play a brilliant game under the expert eye of team manager Angelo Maresca. They may look like a flock of ravens in their all black strip, but they are relaxed and friendly and they know how to show you a good time. There's nothing of the old hotel dining room about the Savoy Grill, clubby perhaps, but never too exclusive. I always love seeing the big round tables in the centre of the room occupied by a family group, with three or even four generations celebrating some landmark anniversary. Finally chaps, don't be put off by the dress code - as long as you're not in jeans and sneakers, they'll kit you out in a jacket and tie in a trice.

    The cost of your meal: Starters from £7.50, mains from £16.00, puddings £8.00, coffee and petits fours £4.50

    Clifford Mould, October 2000 The Savoy Grill, The Strand, London WC2
    Reservations: 0171 420 2066

    UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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