Nine courses, nine matching wines, nine month old baby in my eyeline* despite it being nearly 9pm: the numbers of Restaurant 1890 are impressive from the very start. The space is Gordon Ramsay’s third in the Savoy alone, joining the Savoy Grill and River Restaurant. 1890 is found just up the stairs from the lobby, before you get to the American Bar - when you can hear the piano player banging out Billy Joel, turn sharply left.
The restaurant is situated above one of the grandest entrances in London. It is placed just next to the gold plated statue of Count Peter of Savoy, who oversees the stately ballet of the black cab turning circle, chauffeured cars driving on the right and hundreds of people congregate nightly to watch Pretty Woman. Before you can say ‘big mistake, huge’, take one of the 26 seats at 1890, in a space that was originally a banqueting hall for private dining. It resembles one of the many high end railway carriages beloved of Kenneth Branagh ensemble pieces and the fabulous Belmond trains that leisurely chug through the British countryside. Musically funk and soul is the order of the day - so if you’ve ever wondered what the ideal pairing is with a South African white Merlot called 'The Italian Job', it turns out to be Delfonics’ bedroom soul classic ‘Ready Or Not’.
Restaurant 1890 is a tribute to one man: Auguste Escoffier, titan of French cooking, former chef of The Savoy and the man who first created the tasting menu. The dishes in Escoffier’s original restaurant were intended for ‘the king of chefs and chef of kings’ and featured a greatest hits of avian cruelty (songbirds swallowed whole, chicken stuffed with foie gras), frogs legs on a pond of jelly (lasciviously described as ‘Nymph thighs’) and concluded with fruit eaten with golden scissors.
Tonight’s menu by ex-Petrus head chef James Sharp is, thankfully, more considered - after all as Escoffier said himself “People who do not accept the new, grow old very quickly,” A canapé called a Lobster Cornetto is lilliputian in scale but intense in flavour, along with a meticulously constructed beetroot and caviar canapé and smoked cheddar soufflé with a dot of pickled walnut on top. Nourishing tomato consommé, served in a tea cup, is matched with Mig Mag olive oil, a premium Portuguese favourite that is so good it can be served on ice cream. The ‘tomato Royale’ (it’s better if you say it in the same way as Samuel L Jackson) is contained within a little porcelain egg, filled with savoury custard, topped with peas, Iberica crumb, mint, and aims to capture the zest and energy of a spring morning. It is akin to eating a delicious meadow in full bloom.
The butter-packed Parker house rolls, drizzled with honey provided by the general manager’s uncle, are sublime - we ordered a second round. A lone spear of asparagus accompanied by a single new potato (Spud-you-don’t-like?) impressed with both its elegance and precision of flavour, particularly when dipped in wild garlic hollandaise. Turbot veronique feels like a faithful tribute to Escoffier: impossibly delicate fish, champagne-fueled sauce, accompanied by frog spawn like caviar swimming in the beurre blanc. The slow cooked Aberdeen Angus short rib with artichokes, pickled baby onions and glossy sauce Bordelaise was both so soft it could both have been eaten with a spoon and so exquisite that one wanted to make it as difficult as possible as it was such a treat. Ile Flottante, despite being served on a trypophobic nightmare of a plate, stood out. To finish? Fabulous salt caramel chocolate and some mildly unsettling pâtes de fruits - the sort of thing resembles Escoffier’s take on a Roundtree’s Fruit pastel.
The staff are uniformly excellent: Emmanuel Pesqueira is a truly exceptional sommelier. Friendly, funny, passionate, evangelical: by the time we got to the middle of the meal he was showing a bottle of champagne that had been aged underwater with infectious glee. Also he discussed the restaurant’s use of coravin - a way of giving diners the most impressive range without compromise (44 wines by the glass! 10 champagnes on offer!). Yes it does feel a tiny bit odd to have a medical beaker as a receptacle but Pesqueira carries it through. One can also see why during the eleven weeks the place has been open he has already served 12 wine specials for £1890 a head. General manager Sarah Rhone inserts a level of mystery and delivers the ingredients in patented Ramsay way: listing them precisely, while pouring sauces and charming all at the same time. In all, a timely reminder of the craft and care Ramsay puts into everything: he’s apparently in frequently, meting out his exacting standards and it shows in every element of 1890. Frankly, you’d have to be an idiot sandwich to resist.
*In fairness to the baby, the parents and the staff, everyone involved acquitted themselves brilliantly.