Both afternoon tea and The Criterion are icons. The first is quintessentially British; the second a long-standing London destination for fine food, and one which has been frequented by the great and the good for around a century and a half.
Thomas Verity, a British architect, won a competition to build The Criterion; work began in the summer of 1871 and was completed in 1873. The Portuguese marble walls and gold mosaic ceiling along with sumptuous embellishments remain; they remind us of a time before plasterboard and plastic.
The last 150 years have seen many changes in London, this city having been through so much. Londoners endured the WWII Blitz when The Criterion was pulled into service, with its deep underground theatre being used as a secret safe-house for BBC radio. And keeping with the entertainment theme, recently the restaurant was used as the backdrop for the epic Hollywood production of “Batman – The Dark Knight”. Downton Abbey also visited, and I hear that many a diner asks to sit at Lady Edith’s table.
In December 2015 the Gatto family, owner of the famous and historic Savini Restaurant in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, dating back to 1867, reopened the London restaurant with the name of Savini at Criterion. The a la carte menu is distinctly Italian, as one would hope and expect, but the restaurant also presents afternoons filled with more-British fare. Afternoon Tea in various forms …but with Italian flair.
Teatime is an event and one which can be tailored to the appetite of the tea sipper. Cream Tea is perhaps the simplest but it’s traditional and popular not only here but in Devon and Cornwall, home of the celebrated clotted cream, the essential accompaniment. Cream tea at Savini is generous with 3 scones (it’s often only 2 elsewhere), jams, clotted cream and the restaurant’s celebrated biscuits. It’s very competitively priced and a great opportunity to enjoy Savini in casual mode.
Afternoon Tea is the classic version with the 3-tier stand laden with both sweet and savoury treats. There are the previously-mentioned scones with their sweet garnishes, along with savoury offerings, and that’s where the first of the Italian influences comes into play. There are finger sandwiches but one might find bruschetta, panino al latte with burrata cheese, and vegetarian caponata.
But the guest’s gaze will likely have fixed on the top plate – an assortment of homemade mini cakes. There is more Italian good taste here and it wasn’t wasted on this visitor. Those miniature delights included marvellously crafted tiramisu which is a signature dessert here, but the most memorable cake for me was the rum baba. Save space for this one. Great patisserie at Savini.
It’s unlikely that anyone other than an in-training rugby player could eat every scrap of this teatime spread but if they are still peckish by the end then staff will be happy to provide more. I am sure that is a rare request! It must be part of that so-renowned Italian hospitality!
A little pampering
Going out for afternoon tea is often a celebratory event. Many a birthday or anniversary has been enjoyed around the tea table, but what a great graduation event this would be. Afternoon tea is trending! Savini At Criterion offers Champagne or Martini Afternoon Tea for those who want to make the occasion even more special. Nothing speaks ‘congratulations’ louder than the pop of a cork heralding the arrival of a chilled glass of fizz. Or come here for a little pampering with no excuse at all.
But teatime is always enjoyed with a nice cup of tea, although I note that coffee can be had here too! The tea menu is creditable, with both green and black teas.
Savini At Criterion has a central location, making this an ideal venue for both tourist and local alike. They offer outstanding Italian food but they have also embraced British culinary institutions, and those teatime offerings are at a reasonable price. Success is assured with this afternoon delight.
Savini At Criterion is open every day from 8am to midnight
Savini At Criterion
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7930 1459
Phone: +44 (0) 7493 248819
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018