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The Upstairs Bar at The Savoy

It's quite a while since we last visited this charming lttle restaurant-bar. In the meantime, Head Chef of the Savoy Grill David Sharland has departed for the country at The Vineyard. His place has been most ably filled by Simon Scott, who was premier sous chef at The Ritz.

The Upstairs Bar is perched aboth the entrance to The Savoy from whence one can spy the glitteratti getting in and out of their limousines. Seated at one of the tables in the windows running down one one side of this long narrow room, one can easily imagine being in the pullman carriage of one of those transcontinental railway trains. There is no shortage of staff - they all seemed to be German girls with the sweetest smiles - seemingly oblivious to the fact that their national side was at that very moment getting a dreadful drubbing from the Croatians.

There's a good variety of different types of food, from afternoon tea served between 3:00pm and 5:30pm to full scale dishes like roast loin of lamb. The dividing line between starters and main dishes is fairly arbitrary, depending more on your appetite and the time of day. So for instance you could have a "Crunchy Caesar salad with Butterfly sardines" (£8.00), a "Goat's cheese tart with rocket salad" (£9.00) or "Carrot and pearl barley cannelloni on a bed of basil spinach and carrot jus" (£9.50). There has always been a considerable emphasis on seafood, and I was delighted to see that Jak, the late Fleet Street cartoonist is still remembered by Jak's Plate (£15.95) which is a seafood medley featuring scallops, lobster, salmon sushi and so on.

Every day there are special dishes, and the Upstairs has always been a place where the Savoy Grill's chefs have been able to let their hair down a bit and give vent to their more creative and imaginative side. Since it was the evening of July 4th, there was a special Independence Day Menu. Two starters were offered: "Filo cased sweet potato soup with mini beet ravioli andginger oil", and "Smoked Maryland chicken Ceasar salad with garlic croutons and parmesan wafer". The Upstairs has always been noted for its Caesar salads, but we thought on this occasion we'd try the soup. I'm not sure that the filo pastry was a great idea, inevitably most of it had gone rather soggy, but the creamy sweet potato soup was delicious and the beetroot ravioli went down very well. I chose a starter from the main menu, a very correct "Salad Niçoise" which had all the authentic details including a generous piece of well seared tuna.

From the Independence Day menu, (3 courses for £25.00 including coffee and service) we chose a main course of Baltimore crab cakes with young spinach and sweetcorn relish. All too often the principal ingredient of a dish seems to have no flavour, or worse, has been masked by other competing flavours. Here, the crab cakes really tasted of crab. From the main menu I had the roast loin of lamb with pistaccio and mint crust, £14.25. The pieces of lamb were strangely irregular in shape with no trace of pink inside, although I had been asked how I would like it to be. The dish was attractively finished with a roasted fennel sauce accompanied by some Thai potato croquettes that had not been over spiced.

Another excellent feature of the Upstairs Bar is the range of really super wines available by the glass - and very generous glassfulls too! There's always an excellent magnum of Champagne open - it was Mumm Cordon Rouge on July 4th - and nearly all the wines are presented in both half and whole bottles. My companion enjoyed a glass of the 1996 Geyzer Peak Chardonnay (£5.20) from California while I tucked into the 1997 Wolf Blass Chardonnay (£6.00) from Australia. Later we tried the Wolf Blass 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon (£6.50) - a monster that still needs more time - and the very approachable and fruity Pinot Noir de Redcliffe 1996 (£6.30) from NZ.

We chose our dessert from the special menu - "Long Island tea sorbet with chilled roasted peach in Maple syrup", a creation that demonstrated the skill in the puddings department. It was like a US version of Peach Melba, so perhaps it ought to be named after a great American diva, so how about Peach Jesse Norman?

I'm delighted to recommend The Upstairs Bar as a very pleasant and elegant place where you can find innovative cuisine matched by very good wines. It's also a great place to pop into for a smart lunch break, or for pre and post theatre eating.

Starters: £5.95 to £9.25. Mains: £9.00 to £14.25. Desserts: £5.00 and £5.50.

The Upstairs Bar at the Savoy
The Strand London WC2R 0EU
Tel: 020 7836 4343

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