db Eats: Restaurant 1890 by Gordon Ramsay
Douglas Blyde visits Restaurant 1890 by Gordon Ramsay at The Savoy, the chef’s homage to the hotel’s former director of the kitchens, Auguste Escoffier.
“French haute cuisine makes a comeback at this contemporary take on bold, classic flavours,” wrote Tempus’ Michelle Johnson of Gordon Ramsay’s homage to The Savoy’s eminent Auguste Escoffier. In 1890, the author of Le Guide Culinaire brought culinary flair and discipline to Britain’s first purpose-built luxury hotel before being dismissed amidst allegations of fraud nearly a decade later. A sense of the best of his legacy is today found in this Pullman carriage-style dining room located above Savoy Grill.
Before the hotel’s last major refurbishment in 2007, this now-cossetting dining room was “Banquette”, its design, to quote Gordon Ramsay Holdings, “intended to evoke the interior of a 1950s Corvette Stingray”. Thankfully, today’s detailed guise has been reimagined in a more fitting art deco context, with golden petal-like lamps softly illuminating intricate, golden details, including a face-off between two shimmering alters at either end, heaving with drinks, one starring Louis XIII standard issue Cognac, and the other, Louis XIII Rare Cask 42.1 – a release so revered that even guests at its official launch at Westminster Abbey were not permitted to actually taste it. Of just 26 covers, the most sought-after vantage is within the window overlooking The Savoy’s entrance court, with its reversed traffic priorities, bowler bat sporting commissionaires, and Savoy Theatre, currently showing Sunset Boulevard the musical.
Affable and elegant, Emanuel Pesqueira is not only head of wine at Gordon Ramsay Group, but a Decanter judge and ambassador for Wine International Association, too. Fittingly for this homage to Escoffier, who was the codifier of the five mother sauces, Pesqueira originally trained as a chef, spending a decade aboard Crystal Cruises “where I saw more than 3,000 cities around the world.” He later worked as head sommelier and maître d’hotel at Red Carnation’s Milestone Hotel, then as food and beverage manager at the Oxford and Cambridge Club, InterContintal group, and Edwardian Hotels, before becoming a senior sommelier at the original 67 Pall Mall.
At 1890, Pesqueira commands a quartet of sommeliers, including head, Beatriz Welter, formerly of Imperial Treasure, and Aquavit (RIP), assistant head, Cesare Bordin, and the particularly witty Benjamin Yip, a change-of-lifer who originally studied to be a lawyer and on occasions, encounters paralegals from his previous firm when they book in as guests.
The list opens with a study of one of 1890’s signature items of crockery, a bowl impressed with holes, which could heighten the phobia of diners suffering from trypophobia, then continues with a rundown of a remarkable six pairings. These begin with the “Discovery” option where each sommelier selects a wine from their favourite region (£110 for five glasses) and ranges to the appropriately priced, £1,890 “Escoffier Eternal Elegance” pairing, perhaps including Petrus 2001 and d’Yquem 1999. In fact, via Coravin, 100 wines are available at any one time by the glass, measured at the table in lab-like vials. There is also a non-alcoholic flight centring around Matthew Juke’s “Cordialities”.
Given both Pesqueira and Welter hark from Portugal, the collection of Madeiras is astonishing, including an edition from 1890 (Boal, Araujo) and – coming soon – a bottle reaching to 1705. Non-fortified options, meanwhile, include a bespoke 27-litre bottling of a dry red field blend from Quinta da Vacaria selected by Pesquieria, and, with a “cult” like following according to Dr. Jamie Goode, Adega Cartuxa’s Pêra-Manca from Alentejo.
From elsewhere in the world, you will find libraries of Grand Cru Weingut Keller to 2007, Petrus to 1974, and Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet to 1997. Where repetitions infrequently occur between 1890 and Savoy Grill’s cellars below, as in the case of 1982 Léoville-Las Cases and Cheval Blanc 1985, both priced at £1,800 a bottle, then prices are harmonised.
Best enjoyed in 1890’s dedicated, comfortable, hotel museum and bar, which, despite its proximity to the American Bar, is no mere waiting room for it, cocktails realised by head bartender, Janis Muzikants, might include “Ramsay by the Sea”. This take on the classic Aviation sees Gordon Ramsay’s Scottish Eden Mill gin collaboration meet Lillet rose, lavender, verbena, green tea, hibiscus, honeysuckle berry, and seaweed.
From within an enclosed, galley-style kitchen with only one door in and out for the team and produce, the brigade is led by former PE teacher turned head chef, James Sharp (previously of Pétrus).
The opening hours having recently been extended to embrace Friday and Saturday lunchtimes, we tried the five-course option, which, compared to dinner, omitted Bouillabaisse a la Marseillaise, Tête de Moine, and perhaps most sadly for culinary tourists given Escoffier created the original peach version of this dish for soprano, Nellie Melba, a take on the Melba pudding.
Lunch opened with a specifically imported, relatively inexpensive, Chardonnay-led, Extra Brut NV Champagne, poured from magnum. Meaning being in harmony with the environment, “Syntonie” by Édouard Prétrot felt bruised. Given its oxidative style, it might well have sat more comfortably with a dish rather than entering the show at the point of aperitif.
Fortunately, the first wine and food match was more interesting, albeit speaking to the mind more than the palate. Selected by Pesqueira, a keen diver, the limpet-encrusted bottle had previously been questioned by customs, he said. Quinta do Brejinho’s Vinho Monovarietal do Atlântico 2019 is part of 1890’s dedicated “Underwater” pairing flight which features six Portuguese wines aged under wax-sealed corks at depths from 10 to 50 meters. Initially evoking rice paper with a hint of chlorine, the Gewurtztraminer saw cool, nautical slumber in Setúbal’s Marina de Sines. It took time to reveal its varietal character alongside a golden bowl of Cornish crab with mussels, Marcona almonds, charred pickled onion, and a particularly light Hollandaise. “Like a tulip, closed in the morning,” said Pesqueira of the wine. “Then you give it sun, and it opens up.”
Next, a nine-piece Parker house roll gained interest from lemon thyme and black pepper, despite not being coated in the own harvested honey of manageress, Sarah Rhone, formerly of The Square (RIP) and Elystan Street. In retro text, complete with a picture of a Jersey cow, branded Oxfordshire AMPERS&ND butter accompanied.
The Gewurztraminer continued to unfurl with a pretty, precise salad of fully ripe Isle of Wight tomatoes, some of which had undergone fermentation, arranged in a line and interspersed with trout roe, and, thankfully given it can bully wine, a minimum of dill.
Accompanied by an 1890 branded Florentine knife replete with a zebra stripe-like handle, the next dish showed more drama of flavour and depth. Anjou squab pigeon, previously glazed in ham, and gloriously pink within, featured offal ragout, pickled blackberry, and, thump the timpani, an abundant black truffle and Madeira sauce. Having spent five weeks under Coravin, an imperial of unsullied, plush, dark cherry, cedar and violet-scented Seña 2018 from the “Fine” pairing was poured by Yip from Imperial, and immediately questioned in terms of its freshness by a fellow wine writer, proving just how difficult it must be for the teams of fine dining restaurants with ambition to please every punter who see fault finding as a scoreboard. We also tried, from an even mightier Nebuchadnezzar resting in its own crane, the black olive, and black pepper evoking, Mas la Plana 2013, and a sip from a standard-sized bottle of Howard Soon’s polished Vanessa Cabernet Franc 2018 from a very rocky site in British Columbia.
For pudding, a luscious Sicilian mango mille-feuille, with Kaffir lime and a hint of chilli, was finished with passionfruit, and served with, said Yip, a “later harvest”, rather than particularly late harvest, gentle, nectarine-esque 2022 Chenin Blanc from Margaret River Cullen, Margaret River.
Sharp and his team delivered a lighter take on the 1890 experience today, with, excluding the dull opening Champagne, positively memorable wines. However, we can clearly foresee that guests who make it to this very special dining room for lunch will soon demand the same elongated menu experience as dinner rather than feel, like us, that they were missing out! And with so much available by the glass care of Coravin technology, going back centuries no less, and such flexibility from a truly engaged wine team when it comes to matching wines, the true oenophile will never be bored here.
- Wine pairings, including £1890 “Escoffier Eternal Elegance” and “Underwater” wines
- Wines by the glass, via Coravin, often from very big bottles
- Intimate cocktail and Champagne bar featuring artefacts from the hotel’s bibulous history including a letter from NASA
Value: 92, Size: 95, Range: 95, Originality: 97, Experience: 97; Total: 95.2
Restaurant 1890 by Gordon Ramsay – Savoy Hotel, Strand, London, WC2R 0EU; 020 7499 0124; email@example.com; gordonramsayrestaurants.com/restaurant-1890