Kaspar’s Seafood Bar and Grill is named for superstition, snobbery and avarice. At a dinner at the Savoy in 1898 there were 13 guests at dinner, and the host, a South African mining magnate called Woolf Joel, was shot dead a few weeks later in Johannesburg. This was doubtless sad for his family, but not so sad that the Savoy, which was the first luxury hotel of the modern age, with en-suite bathrooms and an en-suite musical theatre, could not make a story out of it; this story stinks of the biblical beginnings of marketing. The hotel henceforth provided a flunkey to eat with guests when they numbered 13, should they be haunted by triskaidekaphobia; but the guests didn’t like a flunkey, which was too like a chicken that spoke. (Didn’t the Savoy know that hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is by far the smarter anxiety?) They preferred a two-foot-high sculpture of a cat called Kaspar, which was placed on a chair to make 14; as I have said before in this column, the rich can be very odd, as can be the flunkeys who try to anticipate their needs. (At this crossroads, most of the world’s insanity is made). Kaspar, who now lives in the Savoy’s lobby, doesn’t even look particularly dinner-party friendly; I doubt he could stall Death. He looks like a steering wheel impaled by a cat and he seethes with passive aggression.
Now Kaspar has his own restaurant at the back of the Savoy, beyond that weird tea-room where hedge-funders look like they are being attacked and eaten by chintz; I expect to see a pair of pin-striped legs hanging out of a sofa, limply wobbling, trying to get back to where the money lives. Kaspar’s looks like every other new restaurant opening in London this decade; it looks like a tassel that has fallen off the Weimar Republic, and been preserved and dry-cleaned. How do restaurant designers know the essential smell of the age? Do they all secretly read Prospect, lying in their converted hunting lodges with their tiny little dogs? Or is it Eric Hobsbawm?
Kaspar’s is rather beautiful, with a strange floor that glows like seaweed and slender crystals hanging from its chandeliers; but, suburban drudge even in my cups, I notice the windows to the river need a clean. (Either that, or the famous panorama is broken, like everything else). At 5.30 on a Wednesday afternoon it is pleasingly empty; when I last tried to visit the American Bar, they made us queue by the wall, as if waiting for bullets.
Inside it is silent like a slightly smeared fish-tank. Our waiter is Canadian, young and charming; some critics complain that the service at Kaspar’s is over-loving, but for two women, one of whom is pregnant and looks like a space hopper in mourning, he is fine; he is the sort of waiter who tickles old ladies while they purr and wave £50 notes in return for bread sticks, because sex is too exhausting these days. I have mushroom risotto and lamb chops; D has scallops and monkfish. The food is gentle, unthreatening; I ask for mint sauce, which is pederasty to most chefs, but it arrives without dagger or poison to punish me.
Two courses without wine come in at under £100; Kaspar’s, I decide, is Oslo Court for gentiles. It is not fashionable, but kind and bland; a restaurant for suburbanites to celebrate in. You could bring a Marks & -Spencer’s Colin the Caterpillar chocolate cake in here, I think, and would live to book again. It feels remote from the grand history of the Savoy — I cannot smell the fires that burnt John of Gaunt’s great palace down, or anything except mint sauce and Diorissima — but behind its dull windows, it feels remote from everything.
Kaspar’s, The Savoy, Strand, London WC2, tel: 020 7836 4343