A Lunch to Remember

Suzanne Taylor finds River Cafe's Set Menu simply sublime

Stories From Across London

The River Cafe

Winter Set Lunch Sample Menu

Maggie's London

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I don’t know a single soul who has not gushed with praise over the consistently amazing food at the River Cafe, so I wasn’t expecting to have a single bad thing to say when I took a friend to try its special Winter Set Lunch.

However, my first drink at the bar was a big let down.  A £10 mimosa with Salmon-Billecart champagne and fresh orange juice should titillate the tongue like an adult version of popping candy, but I swear I saw just one sad, lonely bubble making its way to the top of my glass.

I returned it and requested another, which was exactly the same, and the prosecco my friend M ordered seemed to be suffering from the same condition.   Perhaps we were paying the price of being the first guests after the night before?

To be totally honest our aperitif crisis was a mere drop in the river.  Because from there we went from the ridiculous to the sublime.  The food, despite being part of a very reasonably priced set menu, was mouth-wateringly good.   And the sign of a brilliant restaurant?  No charge for the flat drinks, without having to kick up a stink. Struggling restaurateurs take note.

For my starter I chose the Crostini Misti – four rosemary bruschetta with cicoria (chicory), livers, pumpkin and chickpeas.  M ordered the Insalata Invernale (buffalo mozzarella with sweet and bitter winter leaves).  The crisp bite of the bruschetta contrasted with the soft, succulent toppings, drizzled in the finest olive oil.  The liver topping was the best of the lot.  M and I almost ended a 20 year friendship over the last morsel. The mozzarella meanwhile was like the ultimate boiled egg, firm on the outside and luxurously soft inside.

For my second course I chose pasta.  To be precise: agnoli, described as fresh pasta parcels stuffed with veal slow cooked in Dolcetto with sage butter and parmesan.  This was a perfect portion, not overly meaty, and with enough butter to be indulgent without needing a health warning from the Government.  

M chose the Risotto di Frutti di Mare with scallops, shrimps, squid, crab, red mullet, Prosecco di Faveri, butter and lemon.  Subtle and perfectly textured, this was fishy enough to frighten a vegan, but without leaving you feeling you had been French kissing a haddock. 

It would have been rude to leave without sampling the desserts so we chose roasted almond ice cream and lemon tart.  My lemon tart was the Lemon Meringue Pie I wished my mother could have made way back when, minus the meringue.  Oddly, M chose the nutty ice cream despite (apparently) hating nuts.  There was not much left.

It broke my heart to omit the third course of chargrilled calf’s liver, wood roasted potatoes with traditional balsamic thyme and onions but we were full to the brim.  I guess there will have to be a return visit.

The River Cafe is absolute proof that less is more.  Simple dishes with the finest ingredients, served by charming, attentive waiters.   The place was almost full and buzzing with crop-haired, bespectacled media types, and women who know the layout of Harvey Nicks rather too well.  A smattering of charmingly-behaved children added to the mix.

As we left, the world-famous architect Richard Rogers strolled in.  Let’s hope he didn’t order a Mimosa.  I’m just teasing you River Cafe. This was a lunch to remember. 

The Winter Set Lunch is available until the end of March and costs £22 for two courses, £28 for two course plus dessert, or £36 for three courses plus dessert. Diners are also asked to give a donation to Maggie's Cancer Caring Centre London.

Call 020 7386 4200 and ask for the Set Lunch.    


February 16, 2011