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.


The Northall Corinthia

Address: Corinthia, 10a Northumberland Ave, Westminster, London WC2N 5AE
Bookings: Booked through Bookatable on a set menu £45 bottomless champagne
Day: Friday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 6/10

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 17.49.10The Northall restaurant is situated in the impressive and imposing Corinthia Hotel, on the corner of Northumberland Avenue and Whitehall Place. Many are the evenings back in my student days when I wandered past the building on the way to some insalubrious watering hole around Leicester Square, and wondered about the grand things that doubtless took place within its walls.

Having now eaten there for a friend’s birthday, I can confirm that the cooking and serving of nice food is not one of those things. If the restaurant has a defence, it might be that we had selected to eat off its set-menu, and so perhaps the kitchen was teeming with delicious dishes that we simply didn’t have access to. But I doubt it. And besides, a set menu should be a discount on the price, not the quality, of a restaurant’s food.

Compounding this, the set menu we actually received upon arrival was materially different to that which had been advertised online: the steak we had been promised had vanished, and been replaced by a piece of chicken. When we asked the waiter if we could substitute the chicken for a steak, we were told that we could, but only if we paid an additional £18, which is the basically the full-price of a steak. The economics of this suggestion was not appealing, so chicken it was.

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 17.48.50We were not particularly varied in our orders. If memory serves me right, each person at the table ordered smoked salmon to start with, and chicken to follow. The smoked salmon was decent enough, if a little thin and insipid. It was accompanied by a small bread roll, which looked for all the world like a burnt potato. It made a sad companion for the flamboyantly coloured salmon.

The chicken breast was tolerable, but absolutely miniscule, and wouldn’t have provided enough calories to satisfy a dieting mouse. It was also rubbed in some sort of curry paste, and as I have mentioned on more than one occasion, spice of any sort is my partner in culinary crime’s kryptonite. With a tear in her eye and a rumble in her stomach, she pushed the meagre morsel of chicken away from her.

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 17.48.31After finishing with a fruit and meringue dessert, we were presented with a pretty hefty bill. All in all, I was disappointed with Northall; it promised so much from the outside. Afterwards we walked up Northumberland Avenue towards the Hippodrome Casino, where a more transparent sort of rip-off takes place.


M Restaurant

Address: 2-3 Threadneedle St, London EC2R 8AY
Bookings: Booked through Bookatable – 4 courses and free-flowing Prosecco for £36.50
Day: Friday
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

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Friday night saw us dining in the City for a special occasion. It was none other than my partner in culinary crime (PICC)’s mother’s birthday, and thus an event worth celebrating in considerable style.

We went to M, a restaurant opened by Martin Williams, the former managing director of Gaucho, and a man who knows his way around a slab of steak. Several were ordered to the table, and although I did not partake of them myself, I have it on the authority of my PICC’s Dad (himself a chef of much skill and experience) that the meat was subtle and tender, its only flaw being that there was not more of it. This opinion was endorsed by the birthday girl herself, as well my PICC, both seasoned carnivores.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 19.03.52With a holiday in the Mauritius looming, I am attempting to shed half a stone, and so I reluctantly shunned any red-meat, restricting myself to a beetroot risotto, which had a good consistency, the rice properly softened whilst retaining the slightest of crunches.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 19.04.07Having said that, I have always believed that a meal entirely without meat is a meal wasted, and so I did also order up a plate of buttermilk fried chicken as an entrée, probably cancelling out any modest health benefits conferred by the risotto. It is nearly impossible to make fried chicken anything other than delicious (KFC has been trying unsuccessfully for almost 100 years), and I tore through it like a wildfire.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 19.04.27The side orders were less appealing. Several of us made the mistake of ordering buttered mushrooms. If it had been a blind-tasting, I would have guessed that I was eating a particularly bland piece of cardboard. In a desperate attempt to wring some flavour from these lifeless fungi, I salted them so heavily that they probably had the sodium content of the Dead Sea, but it was all in the vain.

The restaurant itself is enormous, and populated mainly by City types, by which I mean men in suits and women who only emerge in the City after darkness settles, and totter around in precipitously high-heels whilst drinking copious volumes of prosecco.

Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 19.03.01The bathrooms contained Japanese toilets with heated seats and complicated waterworks, the slightest movement in their vicinity prompting spouts of water to shoot in all directions. Walking into the bathroom I was accosted by a band of drunken Australians who were mesmerised by these contraptions, and begged me to try them out.

All in all, M is a good restaurant for anyone in the City looking for a red-blooded dinner in a lively, energised environment. Or a homesick Japanese tourist. Half the experience of dining is the company you’re keeping, and mine couldn’t have been better.


Marcus

Address: The Berkeley, Wilton Pl, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RL
Bookings: booked with Bookatable – set menu £45 per person
Day: Tuesday
Meal: dinner
Price: £££ (alcohol included)
Rating: 6.5/10

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Mackerel appetiser

Our mid-week trip to Marcus, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant in the Berkeley Hotel, Knightsbridge, has me pondering exactly what the priorities of the Michelin rating agency are.

Don’t get me wrong, Marcus is in no way a bad restaurant. It is a good restaurant. The food was gorgeously presented, every course a shimmering little structure of art on the plate. A vast army of waiters and waitresses – occasionally outnumbering the diners – floated across the restaurant, immaculately mannered and well-informed, almost desperate to pull out a chair or re-fold a napkin.

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Cured Salmon

The food itself was pleasant. My partner in culinary crime enjoyed a starter of cured salmon, calamansi, shallot and cucumber, a cooling, refreshing number that livened up the palette without burdening the stomach. I had a pork belly, with carrot, mustard and rose, which was satisfying enough, although the rose did give it an overly perfumed quality.

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Pork belly

For the main event, I ate a roasted cod with a green bean sauce, with shrimps littered around the perimeter of the fish. The cod, not typically the most exciting of fish, was nevertheless well-cooked, whilst my partner’s steak was rich and succulent.

One of the major pleasures of eating in a restaurant like Marcus is to watch with fascination the endless parade of multi-millionaire foreigners who inhabit Knightsbridge and eat in its restaurants. At the other side of the room sat two Chinese people, barely out of their teens, who spent the entire evening texting, showing far more interest in their mobile phones than in their food, and certainly more than in each other, although I wouldn’t have been surprised to discover they were texting each other.

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Roasted Cod

In the middle of the restaurant a bulbous, bearded Russian man, with the build of a wrestler, entertained two blonde compatriots, bellowing jokes at the top of his lungs and laughing uproariously as he gradually slipped further and further down his chair. And on the other side of the room a young boy of perhaps 11 sat with his hoodie up over his head, sulking next to a stressed looking nanny as he prepared to tuck into hundreds of pounds worth of food. Ah, the variety of life!

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Beef fillet (£12 supplement)

There are only 11 restaurants in all of London with 2 or more Michelin stars. 11! And to my mind, there is no way Marcus is one of the best 11 restaurants in the capital judged purely on the basis of food. I have eaten better at Barafina, at Otto’s, at Ember Yard, to name just a few.

Michelin seems to be infatuated with an old-world style of service, the hovering waiter, the perfectly presented dish, the elegant surroundings, that doesn’t resonate all that much with me. We booked through Bookatable, and the set-menu was excellent value.

 

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Bookatable – set menu £45