Winston Churchill famously had his black dogs. Less well known is his relationship with a black cat called Kaspar. Kaspar is not a real cat. He’s made of wood. He sat with me when I ate at Kaspar’s Seafood Bar & Grill last week, looking rudely over his shoulder at the table behind me. In that respect he reminded me of my ex-girlfriend, who would often spend entire meals (entire months, sometimes) in a similar repose.
Kaspar was carved into existence in 1926 after a triskaidekaphobic Savoy guest was killed by a truck (or carriage or whatever mode of transport they were using in The Strand in the mid-1920s) following a meal. What do you mean you don’t know what triskaidekaphobia is? It’s the fear of the number 13. Did you not go to school? Anyway, the gentleman in question was the 13th guest in his group, so the cosmos’s hands were tied. Rules are rules. Crash, bang, dead. Never again: Kaspar would always be on-hand to act as the 14th guest. He would eat, too, which presumably helped edge up the food bill. When I dined with him, he opted for milk and cookies, which he didn’t even look at, mainly because he wasn’t really alive.
Churchill was so enamoured with the wooden feline that he would insist on its company whenever he ate at the Savoy, regardless of whether some poor triskaidekaphobic guest desperately required his company. Churchill was, after all, a war hero former Prime Minister, so y’all can go to hell, OK?
Dan, the exceedingly chipper maître d’, encouraged my guest and I, who were busy experimenting with every possible seating combination in our banquet, to “do whatever you like here – it’s Kaspar’s!”
Kaspar’s, you may have gathered, is a far cry from the fine-dining River Restaurant it replaces, which opened in 2010, just as the concept of fine dining was crashing out of fashion alongside the Ugg boot.
It has been reimagined as a 1920s diner – all cut crystal chandeliers and art deco fittings. Good timing with The Great Gatsby release, although it will be hoping for better reviews; and it deserves them.
I started with the shrimp and eel cocktail, which is served under a smoke-filled bell jar, making it look like a Victorian science experiment. A misty trail coiled from the dome as it was removed and, while the sharp tang of smoke lingered a little too long, the eel was very good indeed.
The chicken liver parfait, which is actually 50 per cent foie gras, is served like a particularly decadent scoop of ice cream, perched on a wooden chopping board (very non fine-dining). It’s a light, mousse-y, buttery heart-attack waiting to happen, which is exactly as it should be.
From the raw bar, I went for peppered monk fish, which was a little too peppery; the hot-smoked sable, which was delicious; the citrus cured sea bass, which you really, really need to try; and the London cured salmon, which came from just down the road and was pretty good, too. At £22 for four decidedly small portions, though, it’s seriously expensive.
Still no movement from Kaspar.
For my main I went for the smoked salmon sausage, which came atop a mountainous pile of apple sauerkraut (it would have been far too much if it wasn’t so damn tasty). This is a speciality of the German chef, apparently, and it shows: the sausage was moist, smoky, and somehow maintained its structural integrity, unlike most fish sausages, which disintegrate quicker than a North Korean missile test.
The chocolate sphere is the showpiece dessert; a thin globe upon which hot passion fruit sauce is poured, causing the chocolate to collapse in on itself like the earth at the end of a particularly pessimistic disaster movie. Inside is what the chef calls “marsh-meringue” – a cross between marshmallow and meringue – and the whole thing was stuck down with caramel. There’s a lot going on with this dessert – too much, really – but it’s certainly interesting. The rice pudding was nice, in the way rice pudding is nice. There’s not a lot you can do to jazz up a rice pudding.
The wine-list isn’t cheap (OK, the wine list is nose-bleed expensive – what do you expect at the Savoy, Blue Nun?) but you can order anything by the glass and there are some gems in there.
Without the food to back it up, the cat and the fairy-stories wouldn’t be worth a dime. But Kaspar’s has both the mouth and the trousers. It’s great: go.
First published in City A.M.