THE RIVER CAFE
London W6 9HA
Telephone: 020 7386 4200
One of the great pleasures of London during spring time when the weather co-operates is the lovely walks along the River Thames. You never know what you can find if you’re adventurous enough and we were lucky enough to, not only stumble across, but get a table at the acclaimed River Café.
In the recent bank holiday past, myself and the Man decided to make the most of a sunny day, albeit a bit chilly (there’s blue skies – can’t complain!). The plan of action was to follow the Thames path from Putney Bridge across to Richmond. This was a 7 mile walk which had been in the books for some time but finally, we decided to seize the bull by the horns and just get on with it. We started off from Putney bridge and headed along through Bishops Park, enjoying the lovely scenery and mild weather. After Bishops Park, we ventured into unfamiliar territory and came across The Crabtree Pub. This relaxed looking pub with its beer garden was certainly popular and the menu looked quite interesting and affordable but as we weren’t quite hungry yet, we decided to keep going. It started drizzling for a bit but not heavy enough for us to seek stop and find shelter. And it was a very good thing we didn’t stop – for just a stone’s throw away, we walked around a corner and voila – the River Café. I’d seen this café on TV several times (from the documentary that launched Jamie Oliver in cooking TV history) and had coveted a couple of the cooking books. For a few minutes, we stood there taking in the our discovery, a little gob smacked and thrilled. After all, I’ve been wanting to come here for a while but the month’s advance booking has always deterred me as I’m a fairly impatient person.
After a minute or so The Man and myself decided that this was definitely an excellent place to stop for lunch, if we could get a table. After all, it was drizzling and we needed to eat eventually right? Giddily I approached a hostess and enquired after a table – we were in luck. As long as we didn’t mind sitting outside in the alfresco dining area, we could indeed get some lunch. It was great – finally I’d be getting to eat at a restaurant that I’d heard/seen (on TV anyways) for so long. It was almost like the scene where Homer Simpson dreams that he’s in the land of chocolate where he can run around eating everything in sight. Well, kind of. Anyways, I digress.
Back to the business at hand. After being seated, we were handed the daily menus to pore over. But first, the drinks of the day. The Man, deciding that he was going to have a dry day, stuck with orange juice but I needed something stronger - Pimms (the quintessential summer drink and of course a favourite). We knew we were somewhere expensive when the Man’s orange juice wasn’t just your run of the mill juice – it was freshly squeezed blood orange juice. My Pimms came loaded with plenty of fruit and was refreshingly cold. After toasting to our good luck at stumbling across this place, I of course had to call Her Royal Hagness to tell her of my good fortune. My mission, she said, should I choose to accept (well, she didn’t give me a choice really) was to try everything and review it.
Just as we started to review our lunch options, our waitress brought over a basket of fresh breads of several varieties. All home made I presume, or at least from a good bakery as it didn’t taste like it came from your local Tesco’s and a dish of fragrant olive oil. With great gusto, both The Man and myself sampled the selection in front of us. The dense and soft bread provided a welcome distraction and it took us a while before we decided.
For our starters, the Man and myself decided to share a plate as we weren’t too hungry and also I wanted to save some room for the desserts (we spied on our neighbours and both desserts look tempting and sinful). There were lots of interesting choices but finally settled on the grilled squid with rocket salad.
The squid was tender and succulent with a lovely char grilled flavour. The accompanying rocket salad was a let down as there were lot of older rocket leaves were exceptionally bitter. When you’re paying £8 for a starter, I guess you’d expect a little better.
For main course, I choose the delectable sounding spaghetti with Cornish crab whilst the Man opted for risotto with asparagus. The spaghetti and crab was simply divine – fresh Cornish crab that was sweet and fresh, with al dente spaghetti and went down very well.
The risotto was asparagus was good – nice plump grains of rice with soft asparagus and served with cheese. At first, this dish seemed a little plain compared with the spaghetti but (strange as this might sound) with each mouthful the flavours seemed to intensify and it just kept getting better. The portions are not huge but are good sized and perfect if you were going for a 2 or 3 course meal.
After we finished our main courses, we had to take a breather before we could even consider desserts. Our waitress was quite understanding and gave us sufficient breathing space between the courses. At no time did we ever feel hurried or rushed, even though we didn’t have a reservation in the first place and the overall service was very commendable. In the end, we barely waited 15 minutes before deciding on the sinful selections of the day. I opted for the pannacotta with grappa and blood orange whilst the Man decided to stay with the safe option of vanilla ice cream, with whisky for a twist.
The pannacotta, dotted with fresh vanilla, was simply divine – each mouthful of the creamy texture slid seductively over my tastebuds, whilst the grappa followed with some bite in its after math. It was very satisfying. The vanilla ice cream was home made (evident by the ample flecks of vanilla) and was very good. The Man loved the twist with the whisky as the fiery whisky was well matched by the cool, creamy vanilla.
Overall, both of us thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience at the River Café. It certainly lived up to expectations, both in quality and expense. Highly recommended for a romantic tete-a-tete, day or night or a special occasion.
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