Normally we spend our summer holidays in Italy, but as visitors from the UK are still required to quarantine for five days, we have been unable to visit. We have been particularly missing the wonderful Italian cuisine, and so we decided that if we couldn’t go to Italy we would have to settle for the next best thing…a meal at the River Café! The River Café is the mother of good Italian restaurants, it opened in 1987 originally as a canteen for Ruth Roger’s husband’s architectural practice and went on to win a global following, and publish a few cookbooks. If I’m totally honest, we haven’t dined at the River Café for some years, as due to our regular trips to Italy I have become a bit of an ‘Italian food snob’ and it irks me to pay the high prices which the River Café demands for food which I can get cooked just as well on our Italian travels. However, needs must and due to the current aforementioned circumstances, we decided that it was time to revisit. Getting a reservation at the River Café is no easy feat (another thing that irks me!); we booked our recent table for Sunday lunch back in May. When we booked, I had imagined that in August it would be at least sunny and we would be able to eat al fresco on their wonderful terrace on the banks of the Thames…but I was forgetting that this is England, not Italy, and indeed on our Sunday visit it was not just raining but pouring!… This wasn’t a bad thing though, as I had forgotten how much I liked the dining room – it seems to have changed little since its opening, it has a very early 90’s feel with an open plan, canteen-style that still manages to be elegant; its retro style brought back good memories.
The menu took us straight to the heart of Italy; there were antipasti including calamari, prosciutto with white peaches, pizzette and mozzarella di bufala whilst main courses included chargrilled leg of lamb with wood-roasted tomatoes and a veal chop roasted with capers & lemon. I did my best to ignore the prices and forget the comparable Italian cost, and instead enjoyed the moment, ordering the ‘Crab with Sorrento Tomato & Basil Aioli’ for my first course, whilst Nick ordered the ‘Ravioli with Mushrooms, Ricotta & Thyme’. Upon the first taste of these dishes we were smiling, yes, what a great decision it was to return to the River Café, how could we have left it so long?! The beautifully fresh crab was complemented by the incredibly sweet tomatoes that were undeniably Italian – it was simple chemistry on a plate, Italian style. Nick’s pasta lived up to his high expectations, it’s melt in your mouth texture was wonderful with the mushroom and ricotta, and a hint of thyme. The second courses were just as incredible, I chose the ‘Turbot Wood-Roasted with Clams, Basil, Zucchini Flowers and Spinach’, it was a generous portion, cooked to perfection and complemented with baby courgettes with its flowers, spinach, and wonderfully plump clams. Nicks ‘Wood-Roasted Boned and Rolled Rabbit with Pancetta, Fresh Cannellini and Summer Truffle’ was equally flavoursome, the rolled, stuffed rabbit was incredibly moist and perfectly matched with fresh cannellini and summer truffle. Finally desserts, well naturally I had to have their famed ‘Chocolate Nemesis’, only recently I shared this recipe on MenuMistress (find the recipe here!), it was exactly how I had remembered, wonderfully rich and chocolatey – pure chocolate heaven. We also shared the ‘Pannacotta with Vanilla, Grappa Nardini and Roasted Peach’, it was a perfect pannacotta, just set and very creamy, served with white peaches – their delicate sweetness really made this dessert.
Our meal was fantastic, yes it was expensive for what appeared to be a simple Italian feast, but there could be no denying the quality of the carefully picked ingredients which truly sang on our plates, all perfectly seasoned and cooked. In fact, it was so good, that on returning home we went online to get a table for another Sunday lunch…it looks like November, if we’re lucky!…