The Beautiful Boys (Dave, Paul and Stephen) and I went for lunch at The Criterion in Piccadilly Circus yesterday. Paul and I went there for lunch a few years back, so we were confident of a good meal, but this was one of those “deals” that you get with Amazon Local. I’m not quite sure who named this series of lunches the “Workers’ Lunches” but it’s because we four are the only ones left of our cohort working for the same employer. We go out every few months, and if we can get a deal, we do.
If you’ve never been to The Criterion, you need to go. It has the most amazing mosaic ceiling, very high, very elaborate, very beautiful. It was built by Thomas Verity in the Neo-Byzantine style, and it opened in 1873. It is a Grade II listed building.
I feel that in some of the restaurants that we’ve been to for these deals, we don’t always get quite the same treatment because we have a deal. This was most definitely not the case at the Criterion. The service throughout was very attentive, empty glasses and dishes were cleared quickly. It’s always a bit of a pet hate of mine when empty plates and left on the table, so that earned them many house points with me.
We started with a Bellini… Just the way to start a meal, in my opinion. There were, I think, five or six choices for the starter, four for the main course and four desserts. The point of this deal was that the wine was selected for us depending on which dish we chose. I went for the smoked salmon to start, Stephen went for the ham terrine, I think that Paul had the smoked salmon too, Dave chose the soup. The salmon was served with soda bread, but The Criterion had gluten free bread in stock for me. (Not just for me, obviously.) Trust me when I say that I’ve been to restaurants before (admittedly a few years ago) when they had to go out and buy some, and more recently, I’ve been to restaurants where they couldn’t cater for me at all, so this was another plus point for me.
I selected chicken for my main course, but wasn’t sure whether that would contain wheat – our waitress immediately offered to check with the chef for me, and luckily it was suitable. And delicious.
Normally, I would have stopped after the main course, but as dessert was included in the price, I went for the peanut and chocolate mousse with honeycomb. It was divine; moreover, we were all extremely impressed with the choices of wines, even the dessert wines were not so cloyingly sweet that they were unpleasant to drink. In fact, the one I had with my dessert was bordering on a fortified wine and rather pleasant.
We were served complimentary petit fours with our coffee, which the boys said were delightful. I just couldn’t fit anything else in at that point. We’d paid for the meal when we purchased the deal, but thought we had to pay service at the restaurant. We did, but only on the teas and coffees, so we ended up only paying £5 per head on the day! Very impressive.
The Criterion was built for wine merchants Spiers and Pond, who held a competition for its design and build. It took two years to complete and cost over £80,000 (which would be over £8 million at today’s prices). It was built with five floors – the ground floor dining room, more dining rooms on the first and second floors, a ballroom on the third floor and a theatre in the basement. The restaurant opened on 17 November 1873.
The restaurant was home to the Royal College of Science’s First Annual Dinner, when the chairman was none other than H G Wells. Filming for scenes of “Batman, the Dark Knight” took place here, as were scenes from Downton Abbey. Many other famous people have taken afternoon tea or dined here, including Christabel Pankhurst, one of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement.
From the The Criterion, we went for a quick drink in the Queen’s Head, which is an old pub, famous for dog fights a hundred odd years ago. And from there to the Bar Americain in ZL. The Bar Americain is downstairs and is a lovely little bar, even if it did charge £9.80 for a glass of Sancerre!
We had a great afternoon and evening, and even saw some ex-colleagues in the bar. Looking forward to the next one, boys.
© Susan Shirley 2015