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.