Discerning diners in Milan and the great and the good from the rest of the world will know of Savini. It will likely have been the venue for their international business meetings, smart lunches, family celebrations and perhaps a marriage proposal or two. It is, in short, a restaurant of impeccable pedigree and holding the best of culinary credentials. We now have our own Savini in London. It’s found at the Criterion which is a building with its own history and cachet.
In December 2015 the Gatto family, owner of the Savini Restaurant in Milan, launched their overseas branch with the name Savini at Criterion, thus linking a proud and well-established Café Restaurant with a beautiful London building. Savini has been around for 150 years and is Milan’s most celebrated all-day dining establishment. It’s here that Verdi, Puccini and Maria Callas enjoyed dinner. Those musical worthies would doubtless approve of the London Savini in this building, which exudes such striking architectural drama!
This Grade II-listed building is in the heart of London’s Theatreland. It was designed by Thomas Verity in 1873. It is he who was the architect responsible for such iconic structures as the Royal Albert Hall and the café at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Savini dining room is in the neo-Byzantine style with a sumptuous gold ceiling and marble columns, and is in the Top 10 most historic and oldest restaurants in the world. The mosaic work, curved cornices and carving make this a destination restaurant even for those with no interest in food. Yes, those folks do exist, although I choose to have nothing to do with them, preferring to spend my time with others who will really appreciate the food at Savini.
The family from Downton Abbey
We will be in good company, as the roll-call of previous discerning diners reads like a literary and political Who’s Who of people of whom one might actually have heard: H. G. Wells, Edgar Wallace, Sir Hugh Walpole, G. K. Chesterton and Bertrand Russell all graced these tables. In the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, Dr Watson is told of his prospective roommate after he meets a friend at the Criterion. My dear reader might, however, be more impressed by the fact that Lady Edith Crawley meets Michael Gregson at the Criterion for dinner. Yes, that family from Downton Abbey also visited, albeit in a fictional sense.
Savini has that timeless fine European café ambiance which can still be found, but rarely, in Italy, Vienna and Budapest. Imposing chandeliers glow with polished yet muted light and that glow is reflected in golden tesserae; but the menu arrives and thoughts turn to food, and some of those dishes are as classic as the surroundings in which they are served. Executive chef Giovanni Bon offers his own versions of celebrated regional dishes. This menu is well-crafted and tempting. Granted, the prices aren’t those of the local pizza parlour, but a meal here is an event.
My guest craved a light start; Burrata with porcini mushrooms, pumpkin, chestnuts and raisins is a work of art and one of which any self-respecting pre-Raphaelite would be proud. Creamy and rich cheese with verdant garnishes was a culinary picture.
Braised veal cheek on Jerusalem artichokes, cream and truffle jus must surely be a signature dish here. It was, quite honestly, the most tender piece of meat I have ever had. It would be no exaggeration to say that one could indeed cut this with a spoon and probably even a wooden one would have done the job. If you don’t feel you can splash the cash for a full meal at Savini then do come in and try this plate and perhaps a pasta or dessert. This veal cheek is unmissable.
And talking of pasta, one could hardly come to an Italian restaurant without trying a portion of one of Italy’s national dishes. I ordered Paccheri pasta with tomato sauce and basil. Paccheri is a type of pasta shaped like a large tube and originating in Campania and Calabria. This was fresh-tasting and delicious! Pasta is served al-dente here and it’s all the better for it. A simple dish, but Savini do it well.
Savini’s Intrecci pasta with lobster, leek and tarragon foam was my guest’s choice. This is a decadent and rich dish and attractive too. Lobster is more accessible now but it still has the stage presence of a long admired star.
Speciality of Milan
My companion chose the hearty veal osso bucco with saffron risotto as his main course. This is a well-loved classic dish and is a standard in many Italian fine-dining restaurants. It is a speciality of Milan and the meat is part of a veal shank including the bone, braised with vegetables and wine and traditionally served with risotto alla milanese. There could be no more perfect dish for a restaurant with a parent in Milan.
Milanese style veal cutlet is another signature dish at Savini. If you only had one course with a glass of wine then this must be the dish. It fills a dinner plate and still has a bone attached. This thin breaded chop is fried in butter for flavour and sprinkled with sea salt. It is served with mashed potatoes and it needs nothing more. Come to Savini for this cutlet and you will return!
We hardly had room for dessert but we knew it would be a worthy one. Pears poached in red wine filled with mascarpone and garnished with candied orange and almonds was a light delight after so much meat. The fruit was sweet and soft and the mascarpone rich and moreish, with a little tang from the orange. The grappa here is excellent so if your constitution doesn’t allow a dessert then sip this warming digestif and plan your next visit.
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