Sunday, 4 May 2014

Restaurant Review: The River Café, Hammershith

Becks and the hot pink pizza oven
While the thought of one of my foodie friends coming to London from Sydney was an exciting prospect, it also, secretly, filled me with a little bit of dread. I think the food scene in Sydney is good. Very good. In many ways it is better than London. When Simon told me that his schedule only allowed us to meet up over one meal the pressure was raised even more. Where should I take him?

Where London does have an edge over Sydney is in celebrity chefs, Michelin stars (the guide doesn't do Australia) and European food. Places like The Fat Duck, Ledbury and Le Gavroche were all out as we were booking comparatively late. After a bit of emailing to and fro we settled on Sunday lunch at The River Café.
Becks and I
We were first customer of the day to arrive and the wait staff were still having their briefing as we entered the dining room. A large, bright and open space there are a few hits of well chosen colour with the hit pink pizza oven, bright blue wall behind the kitchen and glass splash back above the long bar. When the owners husband is a famous architect, and his practice located next door, it isn't a surprise that the space is so well designed.

Simon asked our waitress what the killer dishes on the menu were as he only had one shot to eat their signature dishes before jumping back on a plane. While insisting that everything was good and the regularly changing menu meant there wasn't a signature dish, she talked us through the menu and ingredients in detail.
Deep fried whole anchovies, artichokes and polenta
As a starter I went for the deep fried whole anchovies, artichokes and polenta (£17). Around half way through the dish I bit into an anchovy and got a mouth full of bones and scales. It was completely disgusting and I had to scrap my tongue with my napkin (lovely image I know) to try and get the small bones out of my mouth.

When I mentioned it to our waitress as she collected our plates there wasn't a hint of an apology. I know there is a risk eating whole anchovies, but even a throw away "I'm terribly sorry about that" wouldn't have gone amiss.

We decided that the castelluccio lentils accompanying Simon's scallops were the winning starter for us.

Hand made 'agnoli' with veal and veal sweatbreads. With a butter, sage and parmesan
As a main course I went for the hand made 'agnoli' with veal and veal sweatbreads, served with a butter, sage and parmesan (£18). The pasta was perfectly cooked and I enjoyed the veal filling. Although at six agnoli to a portion it wasn't exactly generous.

I enjoyed my taste of Simon's charred monkfish (£37) and thought the accompanying green beans were cooked perfectly al dente.

My sample of Beck's Devon crab, chilli, fennel herb and parsley (£21) didn't rock my world. The serving of crab wasn't as generous as that we'd had the night before at the Ladywell Supper Club and there was some shell in the pasta too. Anyone spotting a theme?
Nespole and almond tart
Desserts were a tough choice, one that our waitress was on hand to talk us through. I decided to go for the nespole and almond tart (£9), purely because I hadn't heard of a nespole before. However, I am now informed it is a loquat. They taste good in a tart too.

Simon had half portions of the chocolate nemesis and lemon tart (£4.5 each). The chocolate nemesis is cooked in a bain marie and had an almost mousse like texture as promised. The half portion was definitely a good move as a full slice would defeat anyone. The lemon tart is made of fruit from the Amalfi coast and it really did zing.

Becks made a good choice with the ice cream selection (£4 per scoop).

During the desserts I realised that Ruth Rogers, her husband and family / friends were at a neighbouring table enjoying Sunday lunch. Richard Rogers was wearing bright red socks with matching crocs. If I owned my own restaurant I'd probably do it too.
Simon and I after lunch
When it came to two o'clock we were pushed out of our table. Not something I expect at these prices, especially when there were free tables in the room and no obvious queue at the door. They whipped Becks' ice creams away before she'd finished too.

As we were leaving they were very accommodating of Simon wanting to take photos of the chef and front of house staff. While Simon was taking photos I got talking to one of the other customers and it was obvious they were regulars, in fact it sounded like they were there every week for lunch. I got the impression that a lot of the room were Sunday lunch regulars.

If I'm honest I was a little bit disappointed in The River Café. The bill was £240 for the three of us and I don't mind those type of prices if the experience matches, but I don't think it did. The food was certainly good, but it wasn't special and there were a couple of service points that, for me, didn't get handled correctly.

The afternoon after our visit I read this review of dinner a few days before. The review and some of the comments sum up my views pretty well.
White asparagus, parmesan and anchovy butter (very salty from the parmesan an anchovy butter, overwhelmed the flavour of the asparagus)

Seared scallops with red chilli and casteluccio lentils (the lentils were very good and the scallops)

Devon crab, chilli, fennel herb and parsley

Chargrilled butterfliend monkfish with rosemary and anchovy sauce and green beans in umido

Half serves of the chocolate nemesis and lemon tart

Strawberry sorbet, roasted almond and stracchiatella gelati

The River Café
Thames Wharf
Rainville Road
Hammersmith
London
W6 9HA
River Cafe on Urbanspoon

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