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Thames Wharf, Rainville Road
Although artisan competition is fierce these days, we side with the fan who reckons that The River Café serves “the best ingredients-driven Italian food in London”. This convivial Hammersmith evergreen (30 years young in 2017), which is rightfully so happy in its skin, is a very slick operation and certainly in the capital’s gastronomic ‘Serie A’, although it gains added kudos by virtue of its entrancing views and seductive riverside terrace (an absolute must-do on balmy days) as well as its decor, which some say is “dated but iconic”.
The rustic glories of Italian regional cuisine are writ large in a seasonal menu that majors on daisy-fresh salads, glossy pasta and specialities from the imposing red log-burning oven: in summer, that might mean poached langoustines with aïoli and pea salad followed by clam risotto dressed with zucchini flowers or wild salmon baked in sea salt; in winter, Tuscan bread soup with Swiss chard could precede whole Anjou pigeon wood-roasted in Chardonnay with speck, smoked celeriac and watercress. Further classics might be turbot with the greenest of beans, lobster risotto or char-grilled calamari with rocket. To conclude, chocolate nemesis is still the go-to option, but fruity tarts, grappa-laced pannacotta and the citrusy almond and polenta cake are also delicious.
Prices are top lire (a bowl of cherries is £10), although “exceptional service” is as friendly and engaging as it gets in London. Meanwhile, a list of pedigree Italian wines served at the correct temperatures in the correct glasses makes The River Café is the most well-rounded of treats.
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Thames Wharf, Rainville Road
020 7386 4200
District Line Station 761m
Hammersmith Tube Station 965m
Hammersmith Bridge 613m
Carling Apollo Hammersmith 732m
Mon-Sat 12.30-2.15pm (Sat -2.30pm) Mon-Sat 7-9pm (Fri-Sat -9.15pm) Sun 12N-3.00pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 4
I do not understand how this restaurant is still in business. The proposition is flawed.
Being Italian and a food enthusiast I was excited to try a restaurant with such a good reputation for producing great food and whose kitchen has trained the likes of Jamie Oliver and Theo Randall. Despite lacking what I would define “the chef's touch”, the food was good. Excellent ingredients, nicely put together and cooked in accordance with Italian traditions. No issues there. Unfortunately everything else was disappointing, especially when put into perspective of the price. This is not a one-off, this is a structural problem.
It was a rainy day and we walked in with dripping wet umbrellas. No one asked us to leave them at reception and no one seemed to really care. In the end we had them next to our table! The table we had initially booked was outside, on the terrace. Unfortunately it was raining very hard ad having lunch outside would have been impossible. So we asked to be moved inside. This created an incomprehensible aura of confusion among the staff. When we were eventually moved we were given a rather strict time limit. Shouldn't a place like this plan for such eventualities?
Perhaps I am being too harsh. Perhaps rain in London is “force majeure” and I should just accept the unusual circumstances. This excuse does not however apply to the sommelier who acted like he had to be somewhere else and rushed us through our wine selection skipping over the question we had asked.
All the above would be acceptable if this was a Trattoria in the countryside charging £20 per person. But it is not. This is a Michelin starred restaurant with consequent prices and guests expect something more and $80 pounds per person for a well executed plate of pasta served on a paper table-cloth accompanied by mediocre service is just unacceptable. This is the essence of the problem. The food is good but in a good day most of us can cook it at home with humble ingredients. So what is the value proposition of this restaurant? If The River Cafe is going for the friendly/casual experience why are the prices so high? If they are going for a great dining experience why is the service so mediocre?
In the end it is most likely this restaurant will continue being successful on the back of its good reputation and will continue attracting customers for which the marginal cost of money is zero or for which a good plate of pasta is worth a great deal of money. Unfortunately, or rather, fortunately, I am not one of them.
Food + drink: 3
We've lived near the River Cafe for some time and I often pass it at the weekends when the car park is packed with expensive cars and the restaurant is equally packed with their well healed owners. I must admit it looks fantastic – especially when everyone is sat outside on the terrace – so we were excited to go there for lunch. Possibly my expectations were just too high but with starters around £18 and mains from £34, high expectations are encouraged. The food was obviously not terrible but we all felt it was very dissapointing.Tubot was served at room temperature (aka cold) and we were warned it would be, but were not expecting an accompaniment of cold (excuse me, room temperature) lentils. The potato with my lamb was also cold. Apparently it was supposed to be (not warned). I enquired if the lamb was also supposed to be cold and was told it should be ‘slightly warm’…now possibly I'm quite alone here but when I order lamb and potatoes I really want all of it piping hot. Pasta was also cold. Dessert also undewhelmed – a ‘summer fruit pudding’ was a slop of stewed fruit with no discernable pudding and lemon tart (which was delicious to be fair) was served more simply that I would expect in a Michelin Star restaurant – just a slice with a blob of cream on the side. All that said the venue is stunning, the atmosphere and service are both excellent, but the food was dissapointing at the price.
Unfortunately our dinner at the river cafe was in the same week I found out that my favourite restaurant in London had closed down, a restaurant that did not have a Michelin star for which I could never figure out the reason. So tonight I spent all night figuring out the reason why the river cafe does have a star. The service was so-so. My wine was topped up once by the waiter. The ossobuco tasted like an old school dinner, the spinach was so salt I can't wait to get home to drink a gallon of water…and despite the fact that I didn't eat most of my food (something that NEVER happens), we were not once asked if we enjoyed our meal, our starter, our wine or our evening. I love food and I love eating out, I am not a snob, I respect the graft and hard work restauranteurs, chefs and waiters put in, but I it's been many many years since I left a restaurant feeling that it had been a complete waste of money. So, in summary, an ok place, great history, ok-ish food, lovely wine, ok-ish waiting staff, but with a lasting sense of disappointment. I just don't remember the last time i left a restaurant feeling cross, not satisfied and cheated. Why on earth have they got a Michelin star?
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