From browsing the books to watching the TV series, I had wanted to visit the River Cafe for years. When I finally ate there in 2007, with my girlfriend for my birthday, it was love at first site.
So on a cold, damp Saturday in January I took my Mum to show her what all the fuss was about.
Situated in Hammersmith a stones throw from the Thames, it is nicely away from the day trippers and walking billboards that clutter the streets in the west end. After a bit of a walk from the underground you suddenly stumble across a place that, from the outside, looks more art studio than foodie mecca. Friendly staff are on hand when you enter to hide away sodden outerwear and guide you to your table. That's when the sensory overload begins. Dotted among the intense royal blue carpet are tables packed with chatty people sharing pagnotta bread, langoustines, Chianti or whatever else happens to be on the twice daily changing menu. Like all good restaurants the soundtrack to the room is laughter, talking and the clattering of knives and forks. Directly ahead as you enter, at the far side, is the wood burning oven that dominates the room. Chefs busily preparing fresh pastas and chargrilling goodies, can be seen in the kitchen that is open for all to see. We took our seats, ordered an aperitvo of prosecco with pomegranate and tried to achieve the near on impossibility of choosing what to eat. We both ordered antipasti, primi and secondi in true Italian style. I plumped for the deep fried artichokes, a Jewish speciality from Rome, and Mum went for the chargrilled squid. Both dishes were a lesson in letting great ingredients speak for themselves. The artichokes were crisp on the outside and soft in the middle and enlivened by a last minute squeeze of lemon. Mum's squid was soft but toothsome and woken up with chopped chillies, a perfect combo. Pasta was then served in the guise of Pappardelle with slow cooked game and Linguine with crab. Both pastas were expertly turned out, being both silky and lightly dressed, exactly how you eat pasta in Italy. A bit of a pause was most welcome as we prepared ourselves for dishes of chargrilled lamb and wood roasted turbot. The lamb came with borlotti beans and roasted pumpkin, but what made the dish sing was the addition of a warm olive sauce. My turbot was seasoned with marjoram and capers and roasted in the intense heat of the wood oven. Served along with garlic and mint stuffed artichokes and spinach, it managed to be both light and intensely flavored. Although at this point we were bursting at the seams, we couldn't resist a pud and went for the lemon tart. This dish summed up all I love about the River Cafe. Dished up on a plate in a big wedge with a dollop of rich creme fraiche, it didn't need the unnecessary dusting of icing sugar or sprig of mint. The tart was sharp with lemon but smooth with egg, like a great lemon curd. The pastry was crumbly and dissolved in the mouth. After an espresso and a cup of tea we settled the bill and embarked on a much needed walk along the Thames to reflect on a superb meal.
If only I could eat here all day everyday. Then I know I would die having eaten my perfect last meal. If you ever get the chance, go! Then you can see what all the fuss is about.