Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The River Cafe - My first visit after so long........

I have "The River Cafe Cookbook" & 2 - at that time, I was not very familiar with Italian cuisine, but its colourful blue & orange front cover, pictures & rather simple cooking methods with such precise explanations attracted my attention in the book shop.    
Famous TV series, the Italian Kitchen on Channel 4, showed off the real talent of two of those greatest female chefs of the century naturally & so logically ever, explaining Italian cooking with what were exotic ingredients at that time.  

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, they certainly had beautiful magic fingers to create season cerebrating authentic Italian food.  I could almost feel beautiful transparent aura surrounding Rose and Ruth.  Two beautiful professional chefs were mission working - I could feel their passions were pure.     

Hammersmith and Fulham has always been outside my comfort zone until I moved in the area recently.  This Easter, we thought of the River Cafe out of blue & decided to treat ourselves since it is just 5 minutes drive from where we are.  

Legendary Rose Gray has been running this iconic Italian restaurant since 1987 until early 2010 when she sadly passed away.  

From outside, yellow brick building gives you rather normal impression.  It definitely has the resemblance of 1980's architecture.  The River Cafe is facing river Thames on the south (Thames Wharf ) where its building was Duckhams oil storage  in its previous life.  In 1987, it was originally opened as the employee canteen for the architectural partnership.  

Michelin star was granted in 1997.  

The River Cafe broke new ground for authentic Italian home cooking in London with an enormous emphasis on the finest ingredients.  Its wine list only consisted of Italian wines, also.

"Best sourcing of seasonal ingredients cooked simply" - They used to review the menu twice a day according to the market availability.  

From its garden, on the sunny day, you can enjoy rather nice view of the River Thames.  Lovely veggies and herbs are grown there, too.  


When we entered the restaurant, it was comfortably busy on Good Friday afternoon.  Yes It was on the 5th of April.

On the 5th April 2008, the River cafe had a fire.  It was said to last for two hours costed about 10% of the total ground floor.  It refurbished largely including the open plan kitchen in present & reopened in Autumn 2008.  We were not aware but happened to be there on the same date in the different year......       

We were asked to wait a while since requested the indoor table.  I tried to familiarise myself with architecture of the River Cafe.  Somehow, it still appeared very unique to me.  It probably was because of generous uses of spaces.   

There is a reception desk on the right and the long bar counter in front of you - leading into the main dining area.  Main dining area has large tall windows on the left and a long drinks & food serving counter leading into the kitchen on the right.  The main pass is at the end of the dining area right in the middle, having hot kitchen behind it.  The ceiling is very high and it was just so airy. 

Many floor staffs working without standard uniform - they seem to wear what they like, hence making the floor really colourful & naturally Springy.  I could not stop imagining how beautiful this place could be on a sunny Summer day.  


We could see the large wood fire ovens behind the food pass.  Indeed, the complementary breads were absolutely tasty.  Tuscan olive oil from Chianti ( I believe it is their own blend.) was fresh & peppery.  

I ordered freshly squeezed blood orange juice (I was a little hungover that day so no wine.:)) - so refreshing with soda and ice (No prosecco on the sore head please!).  My friend ordered Moretti.......................   

The menu consists of Antipasti (£16 - £26), Primi (£13 - £16), Secondi (£33 - £38) £, Gelati del River Cafe (£8), Dolce(£9), Formaggi (a kind for £8, 3 cheese for £13, 5 cheese for £23).

We ordered Mozzarella di Bufala (£16) & Carpaccio di Branzino (£18) for Antipasti, Linguine con le Sarde (£15), then Triglia all' Acquapazza (£34)

Mozzarella di Bufala with leaves from the River Cafe garden and 12 years aged balsamic vinegar £16

This mozzarella was alive.  This was a truly fresh, somewhat wild and milky - yes, it was cowy - mozzarella.  It certainly tasted sweet and like the one we had many times in Italy while we were on holiday.  Peppery green leaves, well matured balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper, extra virgin olive oil & (1/2 of) freshest Mozzarella.........

It was simple.  However, it was unquestionably good.  

Carpaccio di Branzino - Finely sliced raw Sea bass with dried chilli, lemon, golden marjoram & extra virgin olive oil £18

Sea bass was sliced in body length.  Skilfully sliced sea bass flesh were covering a large white plate.  It was not difficult to imagine that the fish was a large in size.  It was very fresh and succulent, tasting slightly different according to which part of fish it came from.  Full flavoured well ripen lemon gave much needed tangy citrus flavour, uplifting and zesty fresh golden marjoram and grind black pepper and a hint of chilli were perfect condiments with tip-top extra virgin olive oil.

Linguine con le Sarde - with sardines, pine nuts, golden raisins, Pinot Bianco, parsley & fennel seeds £15

This was a very well executed Sicilian dish - rich, oily & delicate flesh of sardines with honeyed fruity raisins, pine nuts added more complexity to the dish with its particular nuttiness and mouthfeel.  As it suppose to be, dry linguine was the best pasta for this traditional beauty.  Generous amount of parsley with fennel seeds made this dish well defined.  

Triglia "Acquapazza" - whole Red Mullet cooked in "Crazy Water" with Scallops, Tomato, chilli & a chopped olive crostino £34

"Acquapazza" refers to the herbed cooking liquid used to cook white fish or shellfish inside - Here, it was a whole Red Mullet.  It was not a tiny one, but decent sized meaty one.  Scallops and mullet were perfectly cooked, little "acquapazza" on the plate kept everything moist with full of pleasant sea flavour.  Proper ripe tomato was scrumptious.  I was not sure about a olive crostino with the rest of players on the dish.  It tasted a little out of place for me.  I thought of Tapanade (I know it is French, but.....) but it wasn't.  However, it was an impeccable dish apart from that.

Thank you, it was delicious!

Pannacotta how it suppose to be!
We were not sure if any space left for dessert.  I am obsessed with pannacotta.  I just cannot resist myself from this white creamy little angel.  

It is a crime (or I am stupid) if I do not try their version if it was on the menu.

Here it came - Pannacotta with Grappa & Champagne Rhubarb (£9).  No fiddles, simple and heavenly delicious.

To sum-up 

Service was relaxed, friendly & efficient - just one to mention - When our order was taken, we were asked whether we would like our Primo as Secondo size - it was surprising since there was no mentioning of it on the menu.  It would be lovely to have different sizes available but they need to be mentioned on the menu, I thought.   

The River Cafe cooking was certainly traditionally Italian - There was no fuss, no unnecessary sophistication or complication - delicious, perfectly cooked freshest ingredients all the way.  It does not come cheap, but it saves you time and ticket to travel to many different parts of Italy to taste real beauties of its cuisine.      

Toward the end of our lunch, it was time for their staff meal - I could see that their staffs were all very well looked after - staff meal looked pretty first-class, too!  

Thank you for a delicious lunch!

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