London nicest time of the year is the beginning of spring, when days become longer, sky is intensely blue, and flowers blossom in a multitude of colours. It is marvellous to walk down the street over a carpet of cherry petals, looking at your neighbour ‘s rose plant bloom, knowing soon will be the time when you will be able to enjoy a drink al fresco.
River café since its opening in 1987 has it all. It has a garden that lines the Thames where you can eat in sunny days, a view of the river from the glass wall of its dining room, and a Michelin star earned in 1997. The restaurant, is the creation of two ladies Ruth Rogers and until 2010 Rosie Gray, who both fell in love with Italian cuisine during a trip to Tuscany and decided to import the best of it to London.
With all these reasons in mind, I decided it was the right place to celebrate a sunny day with Mr E. who is a great fan of fine Italian cuisine. Getting there it took us a little while, located in the North bank of the Thames, hidden in the court of the former Duckhams oil storage facility, it hasn’t been easy to find it.
While Mr E. went to park the car, I stepped in to get a table. I was surprised to find a 200sqm rectangle with one side of it entirely made of glass facing the river and the garden. Tables elegantly set with white napery and crystal glasses are scattered all around, surrounded by the open plan kitchen on one side, and by a very long counter bar on the other, where vegetables, salads, and desserts of the day are displayed.
Our table was just next to the open kitchen so we had the chance to see the numerous chefs lead by Ruth Rogers at work. For being a Tuesday lunch, the restaurant was packed, not only by businessmen but also by groups of ladies, families, and a few tourists.
The atmosphere is relaxed though it is not the kind of place to go with trainers or shorts, is it a bit posh but in a right way. Businessmen wore jacket and tie, and ladies the latest Chloè or Jil Sander outlook. With Mr E. we commented on the waitresses style, simple but with that chic detail given by beautifully coloured silk shirts all in different colours.
The menu, updated everyday, is a white A4 paper listing the best Italian dishes with what’s available on the market. As a starter Mr E. took a Mozzarella di Bufala with mashed broad bean, and mint bruschetta (£16), I chose a sweet and bitter leaf salad with peas “sott’olio”, pea shoots and 12 years old balsamic vinegar (£14).
Mr E. born and raised in Napoli, home of the Mozzarella, said his was from an excellent quality but was at least two to three days old. He said that because real Buffalo mozzarella when fresh is very firm, while that one was a bit too soft. My salad was perfectly dressed, and I have to say it was a long time ago since I ate such tasty vegetables that really taste what they should.
As a main we chose to go for fish as some of the dishes that passed in front of us really inspired us. I had a Turbot tranche with oregano, cime di rapa, and slow cooked tomato and basil (£38),while Mr E chose a chargrilled butterflied monkfish with anchovy, and rosemary sauce (£34).
Our dishes arrived at the right time, not too soon after our starters, nor too late. His fish was tastier than mine, and the sauce really emphasized its flavour. Mine was very nice as well but a bit insipid, I couldn’t taste the oregano at all.
As we choose not to have a dessert as we both had to go back to work, and with a full stomach it is impossible to perform well, we were served a small tray of cantuccini, typical very hard Tuscan biscuits made with dried almonds. It was easy to tell they were homemade.
Everything of this meal was special, from the finest ingredients, the army of chef in the kitchen, the doomed wood fired oven, to the height of the ceilings. The wine list as well is special, it displays only Italian wines from all regions such as Gavi dei Gavi “Montessora” 2009 from Piedmont, Terlaner Classic 2010 from Trentino, and Tocai Friulano Buri 2008 from Friuli.
Less special is the bill. But I have to say what we paid for was well-spent money, as the freshness and choice of ingredients were of prime quality, service was perfect, and location amazing.
Mr E. and I since then haven’t seen another sunny day in London, but look forward to go back as soon as possible, unless the reservation’s waiting list ( remember to book at least three weeks in advance during weekends) will force us to choose an easier destination to taste.
Thames Wharf, Rainville Road,
London W6 9HA