After months closed, the historic but ill-fated Criterion restaurant is set for a new tenant, as the group behind London’s oldest Indian restaurant prepare to move in with a “grand brasserie” style opening. MW Eat — owner of Michelin-starred Amaya, Chutney Mary and Veeraswamy, first established in 1926 — is to open its fourth Masala Zone in the middle of June, after being approached by the building’s landlords.
The 180-cover new restaurant will offer three firsts for the Masala Zone group, serving breakfast, an “Indian High Tea”, and also staying open until late, with MW Eat chairman Ranjit Mathrani telling the Standard that he hopes to eventually host “live, late night jazz, as we have a 3am licence.”
“The building is historic but it has seen better times,” Mathrani said. “We are working to offer an outstanding range of food, perhaps 40 or 50 dishes, at affordable prices in a space that is vibrant and interesting. It will be like a grand brasserie.”
The Criterion site, which is opposite Piccadilly’s famed statue of Eros, is considered something of a difficult site, despite its prominent position in the heart of tourist-land. The Grade II* listed building, which first opened in 1873, has had a number of difficult openings over the past two decades, including a critically-slated project from Marco Pierre White. In 2015, high-end Milanese Savini at Criterion opened to indifference, shutting in 2018. It then became an outpost of the Italian chain Granaio, but closed in September 2022 after losing its original owners in 2021. It has been shut since then.
Mathrani insisted the building’s reputation did not phase him. “Our Masala Zone restaurants in Covent Garden and Soho are both on backstreets, and you might say they are on the worst sites in the areas. And yet because of the strength of the food, the service, the looks and the offering, both are some of the busiest restaurants in London.
“We have a very strong reputation with diners in the West End.”