The River Cafe: It's Not Cafe
Since when was it necessary to add words like 'Kitchen', 'Tavern' and 'Cafe' onto a restaurant's name, which don't really reflect the offering at all? Apparently since at least 1987, because that's when the River Cafe opened, and it's a far cry from your greasy spoon caff.
From its humble beginnings, with Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray, at the helm, the River Cafe in Hammersmith has been dishing up some of the best Italian fare in town. It's all about less ingredients with maximum flavour, just the way real cooking should be.
Whether it's the magenta wood-fired oven or the lemon yellow pass, the room pops with colour and warm vibes. We're here for Sunday Lunch, Very Kerri-style, meaning there's not a roast in sight. Bravo! There's a homely feel, and even at 3pm, the place is abuzz with big families and well heeled couples.
You can always judge a good Italian by its take on the classics. Vitello Tonnato is my benchmark, and The River Cafe's version, complete with roughly chopped flat leaf parsley, salty anchovies and fat capers, is outstanding. Chargrilled squid with fresh red chilli and lemon less so as it's missing the flavour punch I was hoping for. Before the generous plate of spaghetti with crab, fennel seeds and chilli swiftly disappears, I manage to pinch some crabmeat. It's another fine example of getting the biggest flavour out of less ingredients, and I'd fancy the lot.
Wild Scottish salmon baked in salt with aioli, zucchini and giant rocket scoops the Dish of the Day gong with flying colours. The seasonal fish is served room temperature, and dreamy mouthfuls of flaky salmon with punchy aioli and well seasoned leaves sort of make it like the best salad going. There's nothing wrong with the beef fillet wood-roasted in Sottimano Dolcetto and sage, and served with peas and proscuitto, in fact the tender meat and moreish ham is bloody gorgeous. It just doesn't have a patch on the salmon, which is fair enough.
Following this flavour-loaded feast, you'd think we'd be too full for dessert. Think again. We manage to squeeze flourless chocolate cake and a selection of homemade gelati on the table; caramel being my favourite as it's sort of like the top of a crème brûlée in ice-cream form, and just on the right side of bitter.
The River Cafe has bags of character, is flooded with foodie history and steeped in industry success stories. The price point means I'll save it for special occasions as opposed to on the hoof lunches, but isn't that a lovely thing?
Five Very Kerri things about the River Cafe
- Amalfi lemons galore
- Flavour is king
- Alfresco dining
- 'Anything is possible' service
- It's not a cafe