Puttin’ on the Ritz
With its cool marble walls and burnished yew paneling, the Grill Room of London’s legendary Savoy Hotel has not changed much since that evening in 1935–except that back then the men were required to wear white tie to supper. “She was sitting right there,” says the elderly gentleman, putting down his martini glass and pointing to a table for two nestled against a pillar not 10 feet away. “Except for seeing her on the stage, it was the first time I had ever set eyes on that exquisite face. Yes, she saw me, too. But she was with a young man who looked very much in love, and I supposed that they were, to put it vulgarly, ‘at it.'”
Before leaving the grill that night, however, Laurence Olivier and his first wife introduced themselves to Vivien Leigh and invited her and her first husband for a weekend at the Oliviers’ country house. “It was,” smiles Olivier, still gazing at the table through the mist of nearly half a century, “like any first act of the period, don’t you think?” —People, 1983
I walk past the Savoy Hotel on a regular basis on my way to or from the Maughan Library. Every time, I can’t help but gaze up and picture all of the famous people that used to (and probably still) frequent the place. The Savoy recently re-opened after a multi-million pound renovation, and this includes its most famous restaurant, the Savoy Grill. Everyone from Noel Coward to Marilyn Monroe, James Dean to Maria Callas wined and dined in the Grill. Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier met there, and, from the quote above, it seems Larry remembered exact details of that night for the rest of his life. The Savoy, like many other really old five-star hotels has a special allure about it.
I was surprised and delighted when Shiroma, a friend of vivandlarry.com and participant in The Weekend with the Oliviers, invited me to her birthday dinner with her family and a couple friends at the Savoy Grill last weekend! The weather in London has been terrible all month and on Saturday, as Queen_UK (my favorite parody twitter account) would say, it was “pissing with rain”. Luckily it was nice and warm inside the hotel.
The Savoy Grill is now a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, serving an elegant menu of fancy yet traditional British cuisine. We were led to our table near the entrance by a really friendly hostess and a French waiter brought and served the wine. Shiroma’s husband Ashan is a chef, so he explained to me what certain things on the menu were. I love food but have only started expanding my taste pallet in the past few years. I ordered a amazing lobster bisque for an appetizer. It was so rich and thick and creamy; absolutely delicious. My main was scallops served in the shell on a bed of sea salt. They were cooked in a delicious sauce with green onions. I ordered the smaller size to save room for desert, which was the chocolate fondant with mint chip ice cream. It was to die for! My favorite part of the meal is always the desert because I have a major sweet tooth. The fondant was freshly baked with a rich chocolate sauce in the center. It mixed perfectly with the ice cream–one of my favorite flavors! Shiroma got a complimentary piece of chocolate mousse cake, but our meals had been so filling, we all had to help eat the sweets.
Throughout dinner, Shiroma and I were nerding out trying to guess which table for two Vivien Leigh had been sitting at that night in 1935. Aside from the obvious connection with my favorite celebrity couple, I really liked the ambiance of the restaurant. The art-deco decor gave it a very old school vibe. It reminded me of some of the old celebrity haunts in Hollywood like the Roosevelt Hotel or Musso and Frank on Hollywood Blvd.
After dinner, we walked around and snapped photos. There is a little museum by one of the bars that had some amazing treasures from the Savoy’s history. The above photo shows Laurence Olivier’s hotel registration card. According the the information on the card, Vivien Leigh was the only person he ever splurged £22 on a fancy night in room 634 (or any room). Today, a night at the Savoy costs about £500, so £22 in 1942 must have been quite a bit of money. Shiroma’s daughter Christina was the first to spot the big portrait of Vivien Leigh on the wall.
An evening at a fancy hotel would not be complete without cocktails. We sat in the lavishly furnished Thames Foyer next to the wrought iron gazebo and had proper vintage drinks while being serenaded by a blonde cabaret singer crooning Cole Porter in the Beaufort Bar. My beverage of choice was the Grounds for Divorce, a honey-colored mixture of Bacardi, Benedictine, Lillet Blanc, Noilly Prat Black Treacle and vanilla bitters poured over a gigantic ice cube in a martini-style glass. It was amazing.
It was truly a lovely evening and I was so excited to take part in it. I felt rather grand. Thanks again for the invite, Shiroma! I hope your birthday was absolutely fantastic!
I decided to walk home afterward and managed to take some photos of Parliament at night from the South Bank. I love London so much.
**Photos in this post © Kendra Bean and Shiroma Nathan. Please don’t steal them without permission.