Savini at Criterion

Address: 224 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1J 9HP
Bookings: Booked through Bookatable
Day: Friday
Meal: Dinner
Price: £££
Rating: 5.5/10

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 16.33.47With scarcely a week until Christmas, London has entered full-festive mode. Drinks are flowing freely, chins are multiplying as people scoff an ungodly number of mince pies, gammons, turkeys and chickens, and work in offices across the land has slowed to a barely discernible trickle.

We at Life at the End of a Fork have been fully embracing that festive ethic. Friday saw us in Savini at the Criterion, in the excellent company of my partner in culinary crime’s parents, aunt, uncle, sister and sister’s boyfriend.

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 16.33.59The first thing to note about Savini is its physical splendour. Built in 1873 in a “neo- Byzantine” style, it is a Grade II listed building of almost infinite length, with soaring, golden ceilings, and cream-coloured columns encircling the dining space. A plaque on the wall commemorates the fact that it was within these hallowed walls that Watson first received word of his new roommate, one Sherlock Holmes.

The restaurant itself has passed through many hands, Marco Pierre White owning it in the 1990s, before some Georgians bought it, apparently serving ghastly food there for a number of years before filing for bankruptcy in late 2015.

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 16.34.24It is now owned by an Italian family of restaurateurs, but the same problem remains: how to create an appealing restaurant in one of the most grubby, tourist-clogged parts of central London, where street-performers noisily bang drums or break-dance before the watershed, and inebriated clubbers from Leicester Square vomit and fight with each other from 11pm onwards, all whilst grappling with monstrously high rents that more or less force you to sell over-priced food.

Savini has not found the answer. The food was decent, but it fell well short of matching the grandeur of the building.  It fell even further short of warranting the £550 bill that was racked up by a group of eight, despite the fact we ordered from a discounted set menu that confined us to choosing between three starters, three main courses and three desserts.

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 16.34.09The high-point was hit straight off the bat. Almost our entire group ordered the caprese salad, the avocado and tomato vivid in taste and colour, delightfully refreshing, the globe of mozzarella as light as a cloud, moist without a hint of rubbery-ness.

From there we started to roll steadily downhill. I ordered fish and chips, which was reasonable, but certainly nothing that you couldn’t buy on a pier in Brighton for half the price. The chips needed more body, and another minute in a deep-fat fryer.

My partner in culinary crime’s sister ordered a lasagne which was so small we needed all the power of an iPhone zoom-lens to capture it for this blog. It was an unhealthy, feverish colour, with the texture of a rubber glove.

Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 16.33.34Meanwhile, my partner in culinary crime was digging into the chicken breast with turmeric, pumpkin, potatoes and mushrooms, which was as dry as a fistful of sand.

The wine was nice, and enough of it was drunk that I can’t accurately comment on the desserts.

Despite the mediocrity of its main courses, the Savini was not able to put a dent in our Christmas spirits. Eighty percent of the quality of any dining experience is the people you are with, and my many accomplices in culinary crime that evening were all on brilliant form. The pleasure of the evening will remain long after the flavour of the food has faded.

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