There’s a lot of history to both halves of Savini at Criterion. For one, there’s Savini – the original restaurant in Milan dates back to 1867, and has earned a reputation for fine dining in a city that knows a thing or two about food. Then there’s the site they picked for their first international expansion, the Criterion, clocking in just a few years younger having been erected in 1873. This Grade II-listed building sits at the centre of Piccadilly Circus, and its glistening gold mosaic ceiling represents the height of the operatic grandeur of London’s theatre district.
It’s one of those spaces that stops you in your tracks as soon as you walk in, countless columns leading the eye up to the cavernous ceiling, so glitz and glam it would undoubtedly seem tasteless if it weren’t just so damn impressive. It has passed in and out of various hands over the years (including Marco Pierre White’s for a time), as the no doubt eye-watering rent has stood in the way of keeping it profitable, and with Savini the hope is clearly that a bit of Italian sophistication might give it the kick it needs.
Savini has been open since December, but a new menu is in the offing. Prawns so tender they begin to collapse in on themselves offer a promising start, the sweetness of their brown butter sauce cut through by anchovies and a goat cheese mousse, with crisp flatbread to give some much needed bite. Risotto follows, silky smooth, with gorgeous diced raw tomato scattered atop, though blobs of mozzarella cream seem to be all cream and no mozzarella.
Lamb chops are rich and satisfying. The accompaniment of steamed broccoli, courgette, and beans – all very hearty and healthy – needs a little more sauce to tie it all together. Dessert is a fine tiramisu, though unlikely to leave anyone raving – and at £8.50 you’d hope for a bit more of a thrill from it.
The room is still spectacular (despite bright lighting and the glare of Piccadilly Circus filtering through the windows), but from the Savini-branded gift shop at the entrance through to the safe, comfortable menu, there’s nothing yet to match the grandeur and promise of that gilded ceiling. Though perhaps it’s a sign of the potential here, the lofty heights to which Savini has a chance of reaching.
Words by Dominic Preston