01/17/2014 11:11 am ET Updated Mar 19, 2014

Cozying Up to History at London's Criterion Restaurant

Standing proudly in the thriving heart of lively Piccadilly Circus since 1874, The Criterion Restaurant in London hasn't simply stood the test of time, it has aced it. In an age where so many restaurants are hot today and forgotten tomorrow, The Criterion Restaurant has earned the designation 'timeless' not only because it has survived but because it has done so with grace and elegance through such dramatically changing times. To put an even finer point on it, when the Criterion first opened its doors, Alexander Graham Bell had yet to claim the patent for the telephone, Thomas Edison was still five years away from inventing a practical light bulb and the first Ford Model T wouldn't see a road for more than three decades.

The moment I stepped into the dining room of the restaurant on a recent visit, I was confronted by the sweep of time and history it represents. This is after all an establishment that has played host to Prime Ministers (Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George famously had some very heated wrangling in the elegant dining room) and inspired the meeting place for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. But even more than its history, it is the grandeur of the room that throttles the senses.

Under a simply dazzling ceiling of golden mosaic tiles, rows of marble columns stand watch over the dining room, which is so authentically British, it almost feels like a set (which is precisely what it served as on the season 4 opener of Downton Abbey when Lady Edith sneaks into London for a romantic dinner with her oh-so-very married paramour). Quite frankly, it is one of the lovelier dining rooms in all of London, the like of which is most certainly unparalleled in Piccadilly Circus.

As for the menu, it is, as you might expect, a decidedly British affair. For starters, there are options like Colchester oysters dressed with apple, samphire, lemon and mirin (my choice); a Game terrine with wood pigeon, rabbit, partridge, pheasant, foie grass, pancetta, pistachio, red onion and cranberry and a Foie gras parfait with home cured duck breast, redcurrant dressing, 'Melba' pain brioche and red sorrel cress. Meanwhile the mains include more traditional English fare like 'Bronze' turkey fillet, stuffing, black pudding, sausage roll, brussels sprouts, 'bread sauce' and cranberry jus and 'Hereford' beef fillet, swede, baby turnips & carrots and braised ox cheek. It's all perfectly fine, but if, I'm honest, the food only feels like a convenient (and completely palatable I might add) reason to experience the luxe and wonder of bygone era.

As an added bonus, if you're making an evening of it and heading to the theatre as I was, the location of The Criterion makes it an optimal choice for a pre-theatre bite along with a cocktail or two, of course. Just be sure not to cut it too close because the Criterion in keeping with its storied history is an experience to be savored, rather than rushed.

To find out more about The Criterion Restaurant or to make a reservation, visit