Melba at the Savoy offers a handy takeaway option for the hotel’s world-famous patisserie
What’s the background?
The Savoy, revered as it is around the world, needs little introduction. But perhaps its cute takeaway counter Melba at the Savoy, easily missed while attempting to dodge tourists down the Strand, does. It takes its name from that classic dessert the peach melba, which has its roots in the famous hotel. Invented in the early 1890s by Auguste Escoffier, the legendary French chef had a habit of treating special guests by creating dishes in their honour, counted amongst them fraises à la Sarah Bernhardt and salad Réjane, taking its namesake from French actress Gabrielle Réjane.
Undoubtedly the most enduring, however, is that which he dreamt up for operatic star of the day Nellie Melba. A celebratory dinner was held on the occasion of her performing in Wagner’s Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House, and for the grand gastronomic display Escoffier chose a key motif from the opera – a swan – reimagined in ice and carrying peaches resting on a bed of vanilla ice cream and topped with spun sugar. He then adapted the dessert, omitting the ice sculpture (thankfully, for us home cooks) and topping the peaches with raspberry purée.
This bijou shop is just as luxurious as you’d expect, and pleasingly tranquil given its location. While there may sometimes be a scattering of chairs and tables outside, it really is more of a grab-and-go location, with no seating inside. Of course, if you’re after a more leisurely patisserie-based experience, the creations of executive pastry chef Ludwig Hely can also be experienced as part of the hotel’s renowned afternoon tea.
What’s on offer?
As well as drinks and sandwiches, there’s a range of savoury and sweet pastries and other treats. Kept fairly classic, these range from a small selection of petit gateaux, tarts and muffins to American-style cupcakes in select flavours. Given the Savoy’s French patisserie expertise it seems a shame to go for the latter, when you could instead be expending the calories on its extensive range of signature eclairs. You can’t fail to be drawn in by these impeccably produced and pretty-as-a-picture choux pastries, which come in a variety of flavours that, whilst fairly interesting, toe the line enough to be guaranteed crowd pleasers; think black forest, tropical fruits and creme brulee.
What to choose?
Considering where you are the first choice has to be the peach melba eclair – not only is it the hotel’s calling card but also the most impressive looking item on the counter. The wow-factor comes through in the white chocolate panel decorated with a depiction of its operatic muse, behind which hides a perfectly uniform choux shell pumped with (perhaps slightly too) subtly flavoured peach cream and topped with vanilla and raspberries. I also opted for passionfruit and milk chocolate variation, with the tangy filling providing the ideal counterpoint to the sweet cream piped delicately on top.
What’s the damage?
It’s not often that you hear the words ‘Savoy’ and ‘cheap’ in the same sentence, but here you are: Melba at the Savoy is cheap. Or at least good value, to put a more luxurious spin on it, and especially when it comes to its eclairs. Here you can pick one up for £3.50 which, while still placing it firmly in the realm of indulgent treat than everyday elevenses, compares rather favourably to other high-end choux shops around town, where a pastry of this size will set you back around £6. Given the name and pedigree behind the hotel, it’s a pleasant surprise.
Melba at the Savoy, Strand, London, WC2R 0EU; fairmont.com