Savini at Criterion

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You could not get more central that this, nor more cosseted from the busy scrum of tourists, affable coppers, wide-eyed visitors on a night out, or would-be pick pockets hoping for an easy mark. The odd local worker who has seen it all before just wants to get their tube home, but for the rest of us that world famous patch of tarmac outside of 224 Piccadilly is a fascinating canvas. Tonight it’s the turn of some ad hoc street dancers busting some grooves, and I’m 30 years too old to be even using that term.

So let’s do something a bit more dignified for those whose dancing shoes seem now to consist of two left fittings…time to dine!

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Dining at Savini.

Savini has a pretty spectacular interior, consisting of immense columns supporting a vast gilded ceiling. Built by architect Thomas Verity in the neo-Byzantine style, it first opened its doors in 1873, and is in the top 10 most historic and oldest restaurants in the world. It’s had a series of proprietors in recent years, and last December the Gatto’s family of Milan became the latest.

There’s some big boots to fill with a venue like this, it’s far too imposing for anything less than fine dining, so the thick cloths and weighty cutlery feel right at home rather than old fashioned.

Having flagged down a waitress we had a bit of a wait before the wine appeared, but it gave us ample time to peruse the menu. My companion went for marinated codfish with marjoram, candied celery, tomato confit and bread chips and I the Octopus carpaccio, sweet paprika potato croquettes, Taggiasca olives and tomato confit.

With the addition of a bit of seasoning, the sweet caramelised celery and chewiness of the cod flakes made for an addictive combination (yes, I pinched a couple of mouthfuls) but the octopus carpaccio was so perfectly partnered by the sweetness of the potato croquettes and the bitter leaves that I felt no jealousy. Mario Lanza was giving it his all in the background. Kitsch perhaps, but don’t you just love that some places still do that kind of thing. Who wants hip hop in a restaurant that’s a homage to classic Italian style.

A steak knife that reminds me of a kukri arrives to help me through a beautifully cooked medium rare fillet. It’s perched on a smear of potato cream and mustard, a few bacon shavings and 4 asparagus spears, so those in search of their 5 a day will want the side of roasted veg.  One of M’s favourite dishes is Veal Ossobuco, which she chose with Milanese style risotto. Milanese risotto is loaded with saffron, and this had plenty of colour and flavour, so she was duly satisfied with her mains.

Dessert was a shared confection of chocolate, raspberry and a coconut covered bombe washed down with a sip of M’s grappa. I’m a sucker for a hit of sweetness at the end of a meal like this.

Unless this place is busy, its sheer scale can make everything seem a bit reverential, so given that you are unlikely to spend much less than £150-200 for the pair of you, I’d go the whole hog: dress up a bit, drop into Fortnum’s for a couple of cocktails before you arrive, and ask your butler if he’d mind waiting up to serve you a brandy in library for when you return. You can always give him tomorrow off…

By David Hughes 

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