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Extreme Makeover: Savoy Edition

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By James Geneau

The Savoy is probably London's best known hotel landmarks. Since 1889, the hotel has played an integral part of London high-society and as a culinary institution. Well, at least it did up until a year ago when they closed their doors to undertake a massive ₤110 million ($208,241,000 CDN) makeover. Scheduled to re-open in May 2009, we wanted to get a sneak preview for Gremolata of what could be expected in terms of changes. So we asked General Manager Kiaran MacDonald of the The Savoy to shed some light on this landmark hotel, the exciting changes being revealed next May, and some thoughts on the food and hospitality scene in London.

Gremolata: Is the renovation in anticipation of the Olympics or has this been part of a strategy with The Savoy for some time?

The Savoy: The owners planned to restore before London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics. However, The Savoy team is looking forward to welcoming dignitaries and travellers from around the world during the Olympics and plans to make the appropriate arrangements in order to accommodate all guests. The hotel team will also work with Visit London to promote the city leading up to 2012.

The purpose of The Savoy restoration is to upgrade the property to meet and exceed the expectations of today's most discerning and cosmopolitan clientele. When The Savoy reopens in May 2009, it will set new British standards for excellence in design, décor and personalized service (just as it did in 1889). As one of the most popular destinations for visitors from around the world, it is important that London's tourism industry continually refreshes and updates its brand. With the regeneration of the South Bank and Covent Garden and the redevelopment of Heathrow's Terminal 5, the city is going through an exciting renewal.

Gremolata: What can guests expect in terms of the design of the rooms and common areas? Is this a modernization or a return to the classic style of days gone by?

The Savoy: The design of the new Savoy will respect the two aesthetics synonymous with the hotel; the Edwardian style of the original 1889 building and the Art-Deco style that was introduced in the late 1920's and 1930's.

The new Savoy will retain the traditional Edwardian influence for the lobby and public spaces including the Thames Foyer, while Art-deco will inspire the outer entrance, the Beaufort Bar and the River Restaurant. Of the hotel's 268 guest rooms and suites, 174 are being restored in authentic Edwardian-style and 94 will be given a fresh interpretation of Art-deco style.

Gremolata: One of the best experiences I ever had was a lovely brunch one afternoon in the main dining hall overlooking the Thames. What can guests expect in terms of changes to this space and the overall experience upon reopening?

The Savoy: The space will be completely transformed as The Savoy's legendary, River Restaurant. Guests can expect a polished, art deco-inspired atmosphere with panoramic views over Embankment Gardens and the River Thames. Mirrors will catch the sunlight streaming in from the River Restaurant's bay windows, while a taupe, chocolate and chrome colour scheme will paravent linear panelled walls, and a fireplace will heighten the intimacy of the spacious 90-seat restaurant. The River Restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Gremolata: The cocktail lounge at The Savoy has been a meeting place for powerful people for years. It has also been rather traditional in design and clientele. Will this tradition continue or is the goal to bring a new generation of patrons?

The Savoy: The American Bar has always attracted members of the world's elite social circles, young and old, and will continue its tradition as THE place to meet in London for drinks. Dwight Eisenhower, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth, Amy Winehouse, Jude Law and Madonna have all sipped cocktails from the bar's famous menu.

In terms of design, the American Bar will retain its world famous art deco-inspired design and colour scheme. The much loved bar will reopen with stylish round lacquered tables, plush covered armchairs, luscious sofas and decadent Italian leather booths. The walls will be lined with photo portraits of famous guests such as Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor and Barbra Streisand. The Savoy's famous baby grand piano will retake its place in the centre of the bar.

The Beaufort Bar, a completely new space in The Savoy, will offer an extra option to the American Bar, providing regulars, newcomers and guests with an opulent new venue to enjoy champagne and cocktails. Fashioned in a sophisticated jet-black and burnished gold, art deco-inspired colour scheme, The Beaufort Bar's onyx leather bar flanked by scagliola clad columns will be elevated upon the stage once used for The Savoy's legendary big band dinner dances, Stompin' at The Savoy. The Beaufort Bar will feature a baby grand piano providing top-notch musical entertainment, just like The Savoy's famous American Bar.

Gremolata: High tea is probably one of the biggest claims to fame for every landmark hotel in London. The Savoy has had an excellent reputation but so has other key landmarks. What can we expect from the new Savoy and how will high tea compare to other landmarks like Claridges or the Ritz if at all?

The Savoy: The Savoy is world famous for its traditional afternoon tea service – an experience that is quintessentially British. Guests for afternoon tea at The Savoy will be seated on chic banquettes, sleek wingback and bergère armchairs in the newly restored Edwardian Thames Foyer. Heads will turn as afternoon tea is served, traditionally from atop silver, three-tier cake stands. Guests will choose from an extensive list of specialty teas and a sumptuous selection of sandwiches, scones and delicate pastries.

Guests will be ‘wowed' not only by the five-star service and culinary treats but also by the incredible surroundings. Set to be the Thames Foyer's talking point will be its standout conservatory centerpiece. Strikingly rendered in silver, the Thames Foyer's conservatory will become its own bejewelled ornament and merge seamlessly with its classic English, Edwardian-inspired ambiance.

Those who wish to take home a little piece of The Savoy experience can pay a visit to the Savoy Tea Shop – a bijou gift-shop offering an array of The Savoy's own blend of fine teas, high quality Savoy signature merchandise as well as gourmet treats.

Gremolata: The recent financial market turmoil has certainly had an impact on the hotel and restaurant industry in London in recent months. As a professional insider in the London food and drink scene, when do you think the scene will rebound or has it started already?

The Savoy: The current financial situation is being felt around the world and all of us in the hospitality industry will be affected by it to some degree. At The Savoy, we are somewhat luckier than most in that our reputation for excellence has stood the test of time for over a century. One thing our own history - which includes two world wars and the great depression -- has taught us, is that if we offer a quality product, regardless when the market rebounds – as it will – we will be well positioned with our customer loyalty intact.

Gremolata: I have been to The Savoy on multiple visits. For those planning a trip to London post re-opening, what would you recommend in terms of the ultimate Savoy experience over a 3 day weekend?

The Savoy: You would begin your ultimate Savoy weekend with a special greeting at the airport by the hotel's Personalized Arrival Service. The attendant would collect your baggage and escort you to a chauffeured vehicle (your choice of Rolls Royce Phantom, Bentley or Jaguar). Upon arrival at the hotel, a Savoy professional would seamlessly usher you to your suite where your bags would already be waiting for you (no front desk line-ups and administrative check-in hassles to worry about).

For the ultimate Savoy weekend, you would stay in the majestic 3,500 sq ft Royal Suite. The sumptuous fifth-floor quarters comprise of an entry foyer, separate living and dining rooms, a state-of-the-art kitchen (for those guests who travel with a personal chef), as well as an office, study, powder room and master bedroom, complete with a dressing room and expansive, en-suite and ‘his & hers' bathroom. The suite has eight Bay windows with unobstructed views of the Thames River.

After unwinding in front of one of the suite's three fireplaces, you would have to pay a visit to the hotel's glass enclosed fitness gallery and pool. Following a swim in the rooftop pool and an intense training session in the state-of-the-art fitness facility, you could rid yourself of travellers' jet-leg with a rejuvenating spa treatment.

As The Savoy sets the culinary standard for cuisine in London, your weekend would have to include dinner at both the Savoy Grill and the River Restaurant. At Gordon Ramsay's Savoy Grill, you would sit at the restaurant's famous Table One - where the Queen Mother celebrated two birthdays. Cocktails at the world famous American Bar (where you may spot anyone from Madonna to Amy Winehouse) would follow dinner.

Dinner the following night would be reserved for the famous River Restaurant, a British tradition in itself. With one of a kind view of the Thames River and an expansive international menu, the River Restaurant will be THE place to dine for the London theatre crowd. After dinner and a show, you could enjoy a glass of champagne at the Beaufort Bar, an entirely new concept at The Savoy.

Although you could easily spend your entire weekend soaking up the ambiance of The Savoy, you would have to venture out of the hotel and experience the sights and surroundings. No other five-star hotel can rival The Savoy's location - on the banks of the River Thames, it is equidistant from the City of London, the luxury thoroughfares of Knightsbridge and Mayfair and the West End's legendary "Theatreland." Just north from The Savoy is Covent Garden where you would find the Royal Opera House – home of the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet companies and across the Thames from The Savoy is London's arts quarter stretching from the South Bank Centre cultural complex to the nearby Royal National Theatre, National Film Theatre and Tate Modern.

You would have to take advantage of The Savoy Butler, who goes far beyond providing hotel basics such as pillows and newspapers. The Savoy Butler would call ahead to order tickets to the opera, personalized tour of Tate Modern or any other London experience you may wish to indulge in.

Finally, no visit to The Savoy would be complete without ‘Afternoon Tea' in the restored Thames Foyer – complete with a selection of sandwiches and pastries.

Gremolata: Finally, everyone knows that when in London, you cannot be expected to eat all of your meals at The Savoy. But if someone had to venture outside the hotel, where would you recommend and why?

The Savoy: The Savoy is world-renowned for its cuisine, from its original mâitre chef des cuisines, Auguste Escoffier to its current consultant, Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay. Upon reopening guests will be able to choose from light dining and tea in the Thames Foyer, exquisite bar fare in the American Bar and Beaufort bar and world class cuisine in The Savoy Grill and River Restaurant.

If someone had to venture outside the hotel, we would recommend the truly British cuisine at Simpson's-in-the-Strand. The Master Cook, Gerry Rae uses only the finest seasonal ingredients for his classical creations. Simpson's Master Carvers are a perfect example of restaurant theatre as they carve roasts at guests' tables, from antique silver-domed trolleys. Simpson's also serves the Great British Breakfast on weekdays, with the 'Ten Deadly Sins' for trencherman appetites.


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