When I stepped inside the Criterion in Piccadilly Circus – better termed a ‘tourist circus’ on a Friday evening – I couldn’t believe the magic at work in that one room. Seduced by the grandeur, I immediately forgot the tiresome jostling of elbows on the street I’d just left, and fell under the spell of the smiling service staff. I glided across the floor beneath the recently restored neo-Byzantine architecture and marvelled at my first glance of the gilded ceiling. Opulence and splendour were in excess here – and I felt a part of it.
As I sat at my table – which, I might add, had recently been occupied by Russell Crowe – at the centre of the restaurant, I barely had time to acknowledge the steamily smooth tones of a woman in the corner, crooning above the keys of her grand piano, before a glass of Laurent Perrier’s Jacques Cartier had fallen into my grasp; the bubbles danced on my tongue as my eyes greedily fed on the marble pillars, glitzy mosaics and magnificent archways.
Warm, homemade bread was next to take up residence on my crisp white tablecloth. I continued to indulge and ordered my main tipple for the evening, a recommendation from an astute and incredibly charming French waitress. Not five minutes after I had taken my first swill of the Château Plaisance Saint-Emission Grand Cru 2004 did my beef carpaccio with miniature Yorkshire puddings arrive. Strong flavours yet perfectly portioned held me firmly in this picturesque fairytale.
A large and heavier main was to follow. Well, would you have turned down the Gloucestershire Old Spot pork loin and belly, crackling, black pudding and pea purée? Even a princess in a tight curve-cinching dress would not have turned down such a treat. Any dish with a guest appearance from black pudding usually lures me in, but this pork belly was one I shall hold at the forefront of my memories for a fair few years to come: succulent and juicy, and almost still spitting – although perhaps my imagination or the rouge had got the better of me by this point. The additional creamed spinach and sautéed potatoes were well seasoned and another welcome recommendation from our eager-to-please, pretty waitress.
By this point my stomach was constructing a white flag to wave ‘enough was enough’; however the Criterion had – probably not for the first time – won over a sinking appetite. A dainty assiette of their desserts followed, accompanied by a rather cheeky sparkling glass of rosé. Chocolate torte, mini apple crumble, a selection of homemade ice-cream, a muille fuille and mini sundae were all smartly presented on a sharing platter.
I had placed myself in paradise for the evening. This is a venue seriously fit for royalty. Or even your mother. Or boyfriend. Someone you’re keen to impress or who simply deserves a treat. You can’t really be treated much better than I was. Fully aware that quality and service were at the spine of this Vin Holding’s flagship restaurant offering, I felt spoilt by everyone, the door staff through to the kitchen and service staff, even by the toilet attendee, and made to feel genuinely every bit worth the extra mile in service – something not all fine dining restaurants have managed to pin down. I felt ready to tackle those jostling elbows once again.