A Meal at Scott's

Of all restaurants in my experience, I believe I prefer Scott’s, in London just off Piccadilly Circus, to any other. Scott’s food is very good, and although one might find its equal at a dozen other places, the total sense of well-being and enjoyment imparted by Scott’s to its customers seems to me quite beyond comparison.

After so broad an endorsement I am aware that it may seem incongruous to add that I always order the same meal at Scott’s, except on the day — Tuesday, if I remember correctly — when the menu offers as a specialty, in season, “Steak, Kidney, Mushroom & Oyster Pudding.” It would be a sad mistake not to order this dish at Scott’s whenever it is available. Otherwise, the meal on which I have long since stabilized is simply smoked salmon, grilled sole, creamed spinach, a bit of cheese, and a half carafe of Chablis.

I am sure one could adventure Scott’s menu with results just as satisfactory, but I happen to like version of this simple meal, and I don’t like to waste one of my infrequent chances to get it. I think fondly of the thin, lightly buttered slices of the delicious buff-colored hovis bread that accompanies the salmon at Scott’s. True, it is offered with smoked salmon at most places in England, but at Scott’s it may be counted on to have the “spread-tothe-edge” quality that Alfred Lunt holds to be the touchstone of the first-class establishment.

Prices at Scott’s are middling high by London standards, very low in comparison with New York’s. The menu price of the meal that I mention would come to about $7.00. I doubt that it could be matched, item for item, at any price by a New York restaurant, to say nothing of the other virtues accompanying it at Scott’s.

What first attracted me so powerfully to Scott’s was the hospitality, the mannerliness, the whole impeccable rightness with which one is received there, even though he be a total stranger. This is hardly a quality to be found in the supposedly “best” — that is, the most expensive — restaurants of New York, where a “friend of the house” gets at least commonplace service, while the stranger is, more often than not, ornately mistreated.

Scott’s deportment is rather the expression of a true professionalism, the rigid adherence to an inflexibly high standard for a long time, the understanding of what is best and the refusal of all else. Such a concept must include the proprietors as well as the managers, reaching down to the very bottom of the staff. Obsequiousness is just as disagreeable as neglect. The staff at Scott’s, one realizes, has too much experience and respect for its own functions to be guilty of either.

In appearance and the physical comfort it affords, Scott’s suggests a late Victorian scene, with much mahogany and marble, lofty ceilings, and no crowding of tables. The oyster bar’s red leather armchair stools, flanked by a vast arrangement of fresh flowers, are on the right, just inside the main entrance. At the left, one receives a courtly bow from Alfredo Cipriani, Scott’s elegantly turned-out receptionist, who has been with the restaurant for fortyfour of his seventy years. He is standing just outside the entrance to the Window Room, smaller and perhaps quieter than the Grill Room which accommodates most of Scott’s customers. For solid comfort and charm, the Edwardian decor of the Window Room seems to me unbeatable; like everything else in the restaurant, its draperies, upholstery, and linens are immaculate.

A note on the back of Scott’s menu tells us that the place was called Scott’s Oyster and Supper Rooms in 1891, and taverns had occupied its site as early as the seventeenth century. But it is in fact a fine example of what is well worth preserving from the latter part of the nineteenth century. In New York it would have been torn down or redecorated or become a famous “institution" — that is, overcrowded, arrogant, and overpriced. But in London it remains intact, a haven for any visitor, any stranger.

A Londoner was lunching with me one day last fall. We met, had a drink, and I said, tentatively, “I thought we might lunch at Scott’s, and I reserved a table there.”

“Good,” said the Londoner. “So did I.”

Not knowing quite what to say next, I said, “My table is in the Window Room.”

“So is mine,” said the Londoner.

Everything at Scott’s was in great shape. I am not sure whose table was canceled, but it must have made some latecomer very happy.