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EATING OUT: Drink in the glamour of this landmark

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The Criterion has new owners

Published: 20 May, 2016
by TOM MOGGACH

OUR last review of The Criterion was a flop. My dreams are still haunted by the luminous yellow risotto. 

The vast dining room, one of the most beautiful in London, was sparsely filled with bored Russians fiddling on Blackberries. 

If you’ve never popped in, The Criterion, slap bang on Piccadilly Circus, is one of the capital’s great architectural treasures.

Opened in 1873, the building is famed for its gold mosaic ceilings, marble columns and Neo-Byzantine flourishes. 

In its heyday, it hosted three glorious floors with a ballroom and concert hall. Winston Churchill, 

HG Wells and John Gielgud were among its illustrious customers. 

But although the magnificent dining room is preserved, recent years have seen a decline in the Criterion’s fortunes. 

This culminated in a 60 per cent rent hike that forced the last restaurant with the lease into administration.

Now The Criterion is back – under new ownership from Italy. 

The backers are the family behind the Savini brand, the most prestigious and historic restaurant in Milan.

As you might expect, the menu here includes classics such as squid ink risotto or veal ossobucco. 

But there are surprising twists, too, such as a fish tartare with Jamaica pepper, strawberries and candied lemon. Or herb-crusted prawns with pistachio crumbles. 

The restaurant is open every day from 8am, serving breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. 

We pitched up one evening, our first impression sheer awe at the splendour of the place. 

Second was the bizarre music – warbly covers of pop hits such as YMCA and No Scrubs by TLC. In such a huge room, it’s impossible to create a buzzy atmosphere when trade is slow.  

Thankfully, one gaggle of Italian diners was having a splendid time, with waiters carving vast joints of beef at their table. 

The cooking on our visit was frankly hit and miss. Starters were best – an oozy, cheesy aubergine parmigiana and hand-cut tartare of quality beef. But a pasta dish of pappardelle with ragu was far too dry – a great pity when served from an Italian kitchen, where a splash of the pasta’s cooking water typically adds lubrication. 

Fillets of turbot, served with rosemary potatoes, were also overcooked. Puddings were better, with a signature tiramisu and a lovely sponge mousse with hazelnut cream.

Prices are hefty. You could easily splurge £150 on a luxurious dinner for two with a bottle of wine. 

But, to be fair, the owners do have a vast rent bill to pay for this prime location. 

The Criterion is a great London landmark. I suggest coming for breakfast, tea or a drink so you can ogle the fabulous room at your leisure.

The bar is a gleaming destination in its own right. My friend’s Bellini cocktail was excellent: fresh peaches blitzed on demand rather than pre-packed fruit purée. 

It would have been the perfect choice before heading out for a West End show. 

Savini at Criterion
224 Piccadilly, W1J
020 7930 1459
www.saviniatcriterion.co.uk

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