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  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
24 May 2003

Initially, little seems to have changed. The talk at the next table is of a former Cabinet minister, last week's salmon fishing in Scotland and what the host describes to his guest sotto voce as a 'delicate matter'. Three men enjoy a bottle of Dom Perignon, another a large cigar. The few female diners are à deux, ladies or Ladies who lunch.

But the Savoy Grill quickly reveals more than just a long overdue redesign by American Barbara Barry who has successfully married the room's architectural heritage with a sense of 'power dining' reminiscent of New York's Four Seasons restaurant.

There is no salt or pepper on the tables; no cutlery other than a bread knife so that the waiting staff can set your place precisely after you have ordered as well as the more obvious signs of significant expenditure for the long term: excellent glassware, new champagne, dessert and liqueur trolleys, a vastly improved wine list and Laguiole knives a-plenty.

Chef Marcus Wareing, formerly of Petrus, is now in charge and the menu reflects his lighter, flavourful approach. The current lunchtime menu featured only one unsuccessful dish, an overcomplicated tian of potted shrimps, but successes in an omelette Arnold Bennett, a modern-day steak and kidney pudding and a braised fillet of halibut with baby gem lettuce as well as a well conceived and executed dessert trolley.

The Grill thoughtfully reopens with keen prices that are bound to rise but so too must the standard of service currently akin to a Heath-Robinson cartoon depicting an invention of Professor Brainstawm - well populated, over-elaborate in a shambolic way and not always delivering the outcome intended.

The Savoy Grill
Strand, London WC2 (tel 020 7592 1600)
Set lunch £21, à la carte £35 three courses. Open 7 days.

Two New Restaurants Of The Week

Roussillon, SW1

The advent of this week's Chelsea Flower Show inspires Alexis Gauthier, chef at Roussillon restaurant tucked away in a corner site of a quiet street on the Pimlico/Victoria borders, to generate another ingredient-led menu.

From 19-24 May a five-course £40 menu will include a green chlorophyll risotto with poultry jus, sautéed stinging nettles with scallops and a jasmine and hazelnut sorbet. Not for the carnivores, perhaps.

But outside this particular week Gauthier shows an admirably catholic approach to cooking using the most admirable produce. In addition to the 30 items on the à la carte menu (£39 for three courses) which encompasses intricate chicken, beef and lamb dishes from organic producers there are two seven-course tasting menus, a garden menu at £50 and a spring menu at £60.

But even the three-course £21 lunch menu begins and ends in generous fashion with warm chickpea beignets, an amuse bouche of gnocchi on a broad bean purée and a pre-dessert of a mini crème brûlée and four different petit fours. In between came a scallop salad with crustacean dressing, a dish of spring vegetables with aged Balsamic and truffles and a millefeuille of English rhubarb.

The bright diningroom is presided over by a French sommelier who has put together a highly commendable, fairly priced wine list which focuses, but not exclusively, on the better wines of Roussillon and the Languedoc in south-west France and a pert maîtresse d' from Eugene, Oregon. She fairly whistles around the tables and could easily keep in check any number of green-fingered gardeners.

Roussillon
16 St Barnabas Street, London SW1W 8PE (tel 020 7730 5550, web www.roussillon.co.uk)
Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday

Oslo Court, London NW8

The long-established Oslo Court restaurant, on the ground floor of a block of flats where bustling St John's Wood High Street meets leafy Regents Park, exudes a sense of nostalgia that few if any London restaurant can come close to.

The doorman nonchalantly points any stranger in the direction of the restaurant (when the block was built in the 1950s the restaurant was a service for the residents as was The Greenhouse in Mayfair). Then the knowing, bow-tied waiters take over and guide you through a diningroom where time seems to have stood still.

I last ate here 20 years ago when the kitchen produced birthday cakes for seven different tables each of them bearing a large number of candles. But today there are still the same heavily draped curtains; pink tablecloths; piles of Melba toast and curled butter; crudités; cut-glass water and wine glasses (which don't do the wine any favours) and, of course a heavily charged sweet trolley.

The menu, service, pricing and wine list (with eight half-bottles) unite to comfort. Watercress soup is served from a white tureen alongside devilled whitebait, Dover sole, on or off the bone, steak Diane, apple strudel, chocolate profiteroles and meringue pavlova. The desserts obviously excite the waiters with one describing the fruit salad as 'fruit from my own garden.'

But the refreshing absence of any cutting edge in the diningroom is regrettably mirrored in the kitchen which produced underseasoned vegetables, overcooked fish and burnt strudel which simply should not happen in 2003.

But for the nostalgic time traveller Oslo Court has no peer.

Oslo Court
Charlbert Street, London NW8 7EN (tel 020 7722 8795)
Lunch £24.50 and dinner £36.50 three courses Monday-Saturday