Danielle Woodward experiences luxury in the middle of London at the elegant Savini at Criterion

Located slap bang in the middle of tourist central in Piccadilly Circus, Savini at Criterion offers a luxurious escape in its stylish long bar, immortalised as the place where Sherlock Holmes first met Dr Watson, and the grand dining room with its cosy booths and tables sat  underneath a glittering Neo-Byzantine gold mosaic ceiling, designed by Albert Hall architect Thomas Verity. 

The restaurant is named after Savini in Milan  a restaurant that dates back to 1857 and which was frequented by Verdi, Puccini, Maria Callas and Frank Sinatra, among others. The newest owners, the Gatto family, have used the name to infuse a sense of Italian heritage and quality to its English incarnation.

Savini offers all-day options with extensive and reasonably priced breakfast/brunch and afternoon tea menus, plus a pre- or post-theatre option, also honestly priced. I stress this, because just going there for dinner is a bit of a shock.

 I’m not entirely convinced the eye-wateringly high prices justify  what you get – but maybe you’re paying for the history, the experience, the peacefulness and the background soundtrack of Norah Jones (an odd choice, I thought, some Italian arias would be a classier choice, surely).

We were given a plate of bread to start plus a couple of amuse-bouches, which were a nice touch. I started with the Sautéed king prawns with brown butter and marinated anchovies with toasted bread and goat’s cheese and chives – the prawns were big and full-flavoured and the combination of all the elements of this dish worked really well with a pleasing sweet and salty contrast. 

My friend went for the 18 months cured Parma ham and melon, which went down a treat. Other choices for starters include foie gras with shallot chutney, Black Angus roast beef and Campari red onion.

For mains, I continued my ‘dal mare’ theme and chose the sea bream with samphire, confit potatoes and prawn sauce, and it was delicious. The tangy samphire was a great partner to the delicate white flesh of the fish and the potatoes were soft and tasty. 

My friend chose the Lamb chop with seasonal vegetables, mint and redcurrant sauce; he asked for it medium-rare and it arrived at our table exactly that. The seasonal veg was a good selection and cooked to al dente perfection.

Other main choices include the very Italian Milanese veal cutlets, the very French chateaubriand and the very English braised beef and pork belly as well as the very American Cajun chicken – so something for every tourist. There are also soups, pasta, risotto and salads.

The wine list is extensive but almost all are out of the reach of the average tourist’s pocket with the cheapest bottle being a pinot grigio for £35 (prices reach into the thousands, which seems a tad excessive). 

Dessert for me was Black cherry and chocolate mousse with mint glace, which was nice but underwhelming – I should have gone for the apparently legendary tiramisu. My friend chose the Dulcey chocolate mousse with almond and caramel biscuit which he polished off no problem!

The portions were average sized and good-quality, but I’m not convinced by the sky-high prices. If you’re going, opt for the afternoon tea or a la carte menu as mentioned above – you’ll get the same taste of luxury without having to remortgage your home to pay for it!