The exquisite Criterion Restaurant is steeped in history; open since 1873 it boasts customers from the likes of Winston Churchill and the suffragettes, and can even boast being the imagined meeting place between the fictitious Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel. Having famously changed hands a number of times to varied success, the restaurant can stand proud again, offering delectable dishes in a glorious setting.
Criterion Restaurant is nothing if not one of the most romantic venues in London, and not something you’d expect to stumble into right in the epicentre of the tourism hub that is Piccadilly Circus.
The grandeur and opulence of its neo-Byzantine design is quite something to behold. The elegant columns and timeless, beautiful arches are adorned with beautiful golden mosaics and the impressive long, golden bar is decorated with dramatic sprays of lilies that fill the bar area with a beautiful aroma.
The restaurant area is scattered with round tables that leave plenty of room between each other for privacy, and a few steps leads you up to a raised area that boasts further velvet curtained arched windows, marble floors and more tables – a perfect place to hold an impressive private party or dinner. In fact, Criterion Restaurant is licensed for weddings, and would make an incredible setting for a 1920s style extravaganza.
The entire restaurant has an air of grandeur and celebration – with prices like these there’s usually a special occasion for the customers. Although posh, the restaurant has a real relaxed feel and an air of diners really enjoying themselves. Miraculously, the clientele manages not to be showy Soho types and the restaurant isn’t too filled with tourists, unlike most restaurants in the area.
Service is impeccable – waiting staff are both knowledgeable and friendly, and incredibly efficient to boot. Some evenings musicians grace the presence of the large grand piano to enhance the mood further, as they serenade diners with charming live performances.
Although its reputation hasn’t always been the greatest when it comes to the food, Criterion Restaurant has really raised its game and serves some seriously impressive dishes cooked to perfection.
The starter menu boasts the likes of red deer venison carpaccio with port jelly and baby beetroots, native lobster tortellini with lobster bisque, cauliflower puree, tomato concasse and celery cress, as well as dressed Colchester oysters with apple, samphire, lemon and mirin. The foie gras parfait with home cured goose breast, poached rhubarb, pain brioche and red currant is essentially one of the most perfect starters you’ll ever have the pleasure of savouring – ask for some more bread as the crisp melba toast just isn’t enough to spread the rich, perfectly balanced and beautifully presented flavours on. Coming in at between £8 and £11 a dish the starters aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it.
Criterion Restaurant’s main dishes again are inventive with flavours and textures though once again costly, at between £16 and £32 per dish. Seafood lovers won’t fail to enjoy the homemade squid ink linguini with halibut, salmon, squid, prawns, mussels, chilli, garlic, cherry tomato and rocket, though the olive oil & vanilla poached ‘Peterhead’ cod with fondant potato looks equally as delicious.
One of the best main dishes on the menu goes to the ‘fallow deer’ venison loin, served with parsnip puree, braised ‘Puy’ lentils, Savoy cabbage, redcurrants and, oddly, dark chocolate – an additional flavour that brings an incredible sweetness to the dish. However, the real triumph is what is essentially pork three ways; served on a slate is middle white pork loin, pork belly, pulled pork shoulder, black pudding and celeriac puree. Each different cut of meat is served differently and expertly and cooked to perfection – nicely accompanied by a side of creamed spinach.
If you have any space for desserts, the ginger bread ‘French’ toast, served with chocolate and chestnut mousse, almonds, cherry jam and nougat ice cream is an absolute treat, and if you’re after a taste explosion in your mouth, hit up the cranberry & cream parfait with gorgeously salty caramel, walnuts, redcurrants and cinnamon ice cream. You won’t be disappointed.
Luckily not quite as expensive as the dishes, Criterion Restaurant’s drinks list features cocktails from as far back as the 1800s – drinks that allegedly featured in the original cocktail book by the restaurant’s first ever bar tender. Expect excitingly named drinks such as ‘Midnight Cocktail’ and ‘Illusion Martini,’ with plenty of bases of Russian standard vodka and Mumbai gin. A pretty extensive spirits and liqueur menu offers an array of alcohol to dull the senses, and a delightful eight page wine list ensures plenty of choice when it comes to food pairing (ask your waitress or the sommelier for guidance).
The Last Word
Criterion Restaurant has triumphed of late, with its breath-taking interior accompanied by impeccably presented and incredible tasting food combinations. A real winning combination – bravo.