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River Cafe Review

Julie Falconer discovers having a ticking clock looming while you dine spoils the fun

Published on June 23rd 2011.


River Cafe Review

THE River Café is not easy to find. Set apart from most of London’s best restaurants, its location on the Thames in Hammersmith isn’t exactly on the beaten path. In fact, it is located a 20 minute walk from the closest tube station, along a riverfront path that the restaurant does not recommend diners venture onto at night.

By the time our mains were cleared and our server brought dessert menus to the table, it was 10:30pm. As she handed us the menus, she reminded us of the 11pm closing and asked us if we wanted her to call us a taxi.

All of that is to say that you have to really want to eat at the River Café if you’re going to commit to getting there. But at 9pm on a Thursday, the packed dining room attested to the fact that there is no shortage of people that really want to sample the restaurant’s Michelin-starred cuisine. 

When I walked into the River Cafe, the first thing I noticed was how full it was. The large glassed-in dining area was brimming with people. Not a single table was empty. Along the back of the restaurant, the open kitchen buzzed as chefs fired orders. Closer to the hostess stand, every stool at the small bar was occupied. My date and I squeezed our way up to the counter, and each ordered a glass of the Rose Billecart champagne (£16), which was smooth and bubbly.

Our reservation was for 9pm, but the table wasn’t ready until 9:10pm. I wouldn’t have been too flustered by such a short delay except that the restaurant closes firmly at 11pm and we only had two hours to enjoy our meal.

(Click here to add text)Carpaccio di manzo, finely sliced wild sea bass with River Café garden herbs, chili, lemon and Felsina extra virgin olive oil (£16).

But once we were sitting at our table by the open kitchen, things proceeded quickly enough. Shortly after sitting down, I ordered a starter of mazzancolle al forno, wood-roasted Scottish langoustines with parsley, garlic, and lemon (£26). My date ordered carpaccio di manzo, finely sliced wild sea bass with River Café garden herbs, chili, lemon and Felsina extra virgin olive oil (£16).

The starters arrived quickly and I dove right into the heaping plate of langoustines. They were divine. Warm, but not hot, the shellfish were perfectly buttery and soft. My date’s sea bass was equally good, with the complementary herbs and olive oil adding just the right touch of flavor to the thinly sliced fish.

With our starters we enjoyed the first glasses from our bottle of COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria (£45). The sommelier had helped us choose it after listening to what we had ordered, and we were impressed with her suggestion. The wine was light enough to go with our seafood starters, but strong enough to stand up to the game my date had ordered for a main. It was fruity and juicy without being too much of either, and had a smooth finish that didn’t linger.

After our starters were cleared, our mains appeared. Mine was capesante in padella, Scottish scallops seared with capers, basil, and fresh red chili, with cherry tomatoes and borlotti beans (£32). Like the langoustines, the scallops were cooked to perfection. They were just the right firmness without being either soft or rubbery, and had a smooth flavor that was enhanced by the capers, basil, and chili.

Img_7932Capesante in padella, Scottish scallops seared with capers, basil, and fresh red chili, with cherry tomatoes and borlotti beans (£32)

My date had the piccione al forno, a whole Anjou pigeon stuffed with sage wood-roasted in Dei Vino Nobile with potatoes, baby artichokes, and rosemary (£33). The meat was tender and flavourful, with hints of the herbs.

By the time our mains were cleared and our server brought dessert menus to the table, it was 10:30pm. As she handed us the menus, she reminded us of the 11pm closing and asked us if we wanted her to call us a taxi. It couldn’t be for later than 10:55pm, which left us with only 25 minutes to order our dessert, eat it, pay our bill and leave. I felt rushed.

We quickly made our decisions about dolci, and not long later, a lemon tart (£8) and an affogato (£8) arrived at the table. They were both delicious. The tart was a generous slice of sweet citrus-flavored confection. It came with a dollop of clotted cream, which provided a nice contrast to the sharpness of the lemon.

The affogato was made with rich vanilla ice cream and powerful espresso, the combination of which was a pleasant jolt that raised my eyebrows as I reached for another bite.

As soon as dessert was over, the bill was brought to the table. There was no time to linger after we paid. Even before 10:55pm rolled around, our server had already come by to inform us that our taxi was waiting. Up we stood and out we went.

Our £10 taxi ride to the tube station gave us time to digest both the excellent food and the overall dining experience. The service had been prompt and friendly and the ambiance lively, but I couldn’t help but be slightly annoyed at being rushed out of the restaurant. Given that the River Café has outdoor tables for sunny days, I might return for lunch on my next visit to avoid having a time limit on my meal.

Rating:        16/20 

Breakdown: 9/10 food

                  3/5 service

                  4/5 ambience 

 

River Cafe
Thames Wharf
Rainville Road
London W6 9HA

 

Follow @aladyinlondon on Twitter! To read more of her writing, visit her London travel blog and Europe travel website.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

PlumJune 23rd 2011.

Veggie or not - who could eat that? They have faces!!

Hero
Mark GarnerJune 23rd 2011.

Plum, you are such a girl.

Hero
Mark GarnerJune 23rd 2011.

and a big one at that...

Hero
Mark GarnerJune 23rd 2011.

Can the writer tell us if the 11.00 pm rule is forced on them (I seem to remember its in a residential area?), if not I would crucify them.

Jaspar D BarnstapleJune 24th 2011.

Food. What a lovely thing it is to see feisty reviews going up on London.

Gareth BrownJune 24th 2011.

Loving the food porn. Images are great, Julie.

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