Namesakes: Putting on the Ritz
How would you like to eat at the Bluebird, Savoy, River Cafe, Criterion and other leading London names for around a fiver? It is possible - but you may have to get on a bus to Acton. Caroline Stacey samples namesakes of the famous
Saturday 20 November 1999
When you're the original Ritz you can afford to be airily oblivious to the fact that, up and down the country, in Lancashire, Glasgow, and Tyneside, there are other probably less ritzy Ritzs paying tribute to your august name. It's unlikely that the Savoy Grill, in the eponymous London hotel, is losing sleep over the existence of the Savoy Grill on Bispham Road, Thornton Cleveleys near Preston, Lancashire. Imitation ought to be flattering when it's not too close to home.
Several of London's most glamorous and distinctive restaurants are so confident that confusion is out of the question: they can happily share their name with another. But just in case someone tries to trick you into a cheap date at a venue other than the one you had in mind, here's how to spot the essential differences between places which sound the same.
The Ritz It's become a byword for all that is glamorous, luxurious and just a little ostentatious. When Andreas Iannous's parents opened their Greek and Continental restaurant in London's Shepherd's Bush 50 years ago, they put "Ritz" on the sign. Since then it has been redecorated in English cottage style, with traditional scenes on the table mats, wheelback chairs and cosy carpets. Andreas does most of the cooking, and his English roast dinner is pounds 6.30. Greek meals cost from pounds 7.30. London's original Ritz (strangely unaware of its Shepherd's Bush competitor) was opened in 1906 by Cesar Ritz, following namesakes in Madrid and Paris. Its interior is a magical confection of pillars, chandeliers, mirrors and general unashamed luxury. In the past three years it has been restored at a cost of pounds 25m by the British company which owns it. The restaurant is open every day and it is famed for its dinner-dances on Friday and Saturday nights. The 115 rooms cost from pounds 285 a night, and one of the 16 suites is pounds 1,500.
Coast Oliver Peyton's Coast was Elle magazine's restaurant of the year when it opened in 1995. This was possibly the first London restaurant to surf the Pacific Rim, with a menu that mixed occidental and oriental with panache. Stephen Terry, the chef who first got it noticed, has now returned to cook there. Marc Newson's Sixties-futurist interior, curved sofa-banquettes and dimple- like lights, have influenced a new wave of design. Bar Coast in Clapham, south London, is one of Bass Leisure Retail's brands. When it opened as Cafe Coast in 1996, enough people thought it was the diffusion version of Coast for the original to take legal action. After that, Cafe Coast became Bar Coast, and there are none anywhere near Mayfair. Coast's food has evolved away from the Orient back to chic European, while Bar Coast is about to exchange nachos and similar snacks for a Pacific Rim menu.
Titanic Calling a restaurant Titanic when it is situated above the Atlantic bar and restaurant in the Regent Palace Hotel, Piccadilly Circus, might have been tempting providence; it was certainly provocative. But so far, Marco Pierre White's Art Deco parvenu has proved unsinkable. The Atlantic's protest about the Titanic trading immediately overhead has recently ended with an out-of- court settlement. Titanic is not the most exclusive or expensive of MPW's venues, nor the name the most tasteful, but there's a waiting list for (free) membership to get priority entry into the late bar on Friday and Saturday nights. Dishes such as sea bass with balsamic dressing and spring onions for pounds 15.50 are among the most expensive. A meal's around pounds 25 without drink. This Titanic, Piccadilly, opened in January this year, not long before another on the Holloway Road, one of the more unlovely arterial routes through north London. The latter's sign makes it look like it's full steam ahead. It is also popular with a weekend crowd, for kebabs, burgers and other takeaways.
Savoy The palatial Art Deco Savoy (never "Hotel") has, leading up to it, the only right-hand-drive stretch of road in London. It also has 207 bedrooms (starting at pounds 270 plus VAT a night), three restaurants, the ne plus ultra of cocktail bars, and employs around 500 people. In medieval times, Count Peter of Savoy built the Palace of Savoy on land given to him by Henry III, on the bank of the Thames. Five hundred years after this was destroyed by fire, opera impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte raised the present structure on the same spot and kept the old name. The Savoy fish shop and restaurant on the Savoy roundabout in Acton, west London, also has a pedigree: it has been in the Alexandrou family for 30 years, and a fish and chip shop for 40 years before that. Fish and chips cost from pounds 3.50 up to a mighty pounds 4.25 for something like scampi.
Odeon Think you might enjoy a trailer of lobster tortellini, citrus salsa and lobster sauce; main event of scallop and black truffle feuillantine, young vegetables and rosemary; then a decent interval before your L'Odeon chocolate plate? Then don't make the mistake of going to the Odeon Leicester Square. The Odeon, like all the other cinemas in the chain, has little more than hot dogs, wine gums, Poppets and chips'n'dips. At most you can go mad and spend pounds 4 on popcorn and pounds 2.10 on a Coke. But the French owners of the unrelated L'Odeon, on a first floor on Regent Street, may not have realised when they opened in 1995 how strongly the name - from the Greek oideion meaning gathering place for entertainment - is linked with a front row in the stalls. They still have to pay a nominal sum each year to compensate the cinema for confusing its customers. Now the two London Odeons do joint promotions.
Bluebird Recent storms battered the front of the Bluebird Cafe at Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire, which has nothing except a road between it and the sea. Sailing enthusiast Andrew Gill bought it 10 years ago, although the name dates back 45 years to when it was opened by an RAF widow. His Mega-breakfast is "a heck of a plateful" and popular post-clubbing. The menu doesn't change all day. It's "anything that's bad for you", followed by soft ice-cream. Terence Conran's Bluebird on London's King's Road is in the old Bluebird garage, once Europe's largest, where Malcolm Campbell's speed-record-breaking Bluebird was built, and Grade II listed for its fine design. The menu may be minimal, but fishcakes with peas, mint, or sirloin and Bearnaise and frites are a lot more elaborate than anything available in Lee-on-Solent. And a meal costs around pounds 35.
The River Cafe Dinner at The River Cafe can require booking weeks ahead, getting down to a riverside location in west London and being prepared to spend around pounds 50 a head to eat evolved Italian peasant food, among the chattering Chiantishire set. Or head to the Water of Leith in Edinburgh where Majid Jorjani opened the River Cafe three years ago, and where he serves dishes such as gormeh sabzi - lamb stewed with parsley, coriander, fenugreek and young leek - from his native Iran, alongside Mexican faves like chimichangas and fajitas. This River Cafe goes down well with students and impecunious young professionals who, in the evening, rarely spend more than pounds 20 a head including drinks, and around a fiver at lunchtime. The chefs who made the other one so well known have had their own television series, and, in hardback, Ruth Rogers and Rose Grey's bestselling The River Cafe Cookbook costs more than a meal in Edinburgh's River Cafe.
Criterion "It means the standard by which things are judged," says Patrick Chubbs of the Criterion in Weymouth, Dorset. "I think that must have appealed to my father." Patrick took over the Criterion from his father, and his son Nicholas is now in the business, which has been in the family for half a century. The decor inside the stuccoed building on once-elegant Weymouth's Georgian seafront might look Tudor, but was installed 10 years ago. In summer, holidaymakers come for home-cooked meals; steak and kidney pie is the most popular dish, at pounds 4.95 including vegetables. In winter it's open only for lunch, and locals find the steaks, casseroles, gammon and pineapple, followed by crumble, bread and butter pudding, cheesecake, trifle, steamed syrup sponge with custard, or roly poly make up for the lack of anything more than soup or fruit juice for starters. At Marco Pierre White's revived Criterion restaurant on Piccadilly Circus, there are more than a dozen starters - oysters and smoked salmon with cucumber gelee being just one item on the menu of classic French food. This and the adjacent Criterion Theatre were built together in 1873, designed by Thomas Verity in lavish, gilded Byzantine style. n
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