River Café. Mostly marvellous.
The property industry is not really known for being overrun with women. I’m very privileged therefore to be part of a small group who meet annually, as guests of one of that very rare breed, a female property developer.
The lunch is always held somewhere interesting and this year I was extremely pleased to discover that we were all going to be eating in the private dining room of the River Cafe. I hadn’t even known that there was a private room there until today. I know. Fail.
There were 15 of us and it was a bit of a squeeze in the room. I’d say that it would take 12 comfortably, but 15 was, shall we say, intimate. Within about three minutes of starting, I couldn’t actually hear myself think, the conversation was so animated. And yes, that’s a good thing.
The menu changes every day, depending on what is seasonal and what is good. We started with mixed antipasti…
followed by a fennel, celery and cucumber salad,
with some garlic bread, inexplicably left partially uneaten by my neighbour. Who is thin.
And then some little deep-fried balls of gorgeousness, containing a tiny bit of anchovy.
That was accompanied by some fairly unmemorable white bread – although the olive oil that accompanied it was spectacular – peppery, strong and clean – perhaps the blandness of the bread was deliberate, because it certainly didn’t interfere with the taste of the oil. I kept trying to see if it did, but no.
For the main course, I chose pork loin with chickpeas and braised leeks. The pork was tender tasty and stuffed with a rosemary and fennel mixture. There was plenty of fat in the pork loin, and it had perfect flavour. I like a bit of fat. There, I’ve said it.
Nothing fancy, just the best ingredients, done simply, which is what this restaurant is all about and what they were doing before it became fashionable and before we forgot that food wasn’t always done like this. In the 1980’s, this restaurant was groundbreaking and has spawned many imitators and a few famous scions. We have River Café to blame for Jamie, by the way. But that’s not their fault.
There were some choices for dessert, but the words Chocolate Nemesis appeared at the top of the menu, so there was really no point in my looking at anything else. I’m just not sophisticated enough to order the subtle fruit-based things and if you put a massive slab of chocolate on your menu I am going to order it.
And it was superb. Truly wondrous. Enough to stop me talking for the whole (short) time that I was eating it. My neighbour expressed surprise that I managed to eat it all and so quickly. She clearly doesn’t know me.
We had a slight frisson of disbelief as we tasted the caramel ice cream. The caramel was on the edge of burnt and the flavour was slightly acrid. Three people ordered it, three people disliked it. It was sent back. And the straciatella ice cream – it was unmemorable. The lemon tart was, however, spectacular.
The comment of my neighbour in relation to the pannacotta with pomegranates was that it tasted like cough medicine. I think they had put some sort of alcohol in the pomegranates and it didn’t quite work with the pannacotta. So, not altogether consistently fabulous on the dessert front. Except for mine, of course.
And then, because we needed, cheese.
And then at 5pm, I had to go. Which was a bit galling, as it was just getting to that dessert wine point and the conversations were getting really interesting.
But I’d already told my life story to two virtual strangers so it was probably time to make a slightly less than dignified exit (my hold-ups – they weren’t doing what it says on the tin. Bless them though, they had their work out). and leave them to it.