Italian Restaurant in Hammersmith, United Kingdom: The River Cafe Restaurants, Wine, Travel, Opinions

The River Cafe HeartHeartHeart
Restaurants and bars
Open: Lunch daily, dinner Mon - Sat
Price: Expensive

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane
Phone Number: 020 7386 4200
Address: Thames Wharf, Rainville Road
Hammersmith, W6 9HA
Country: United Kingdom
Food Style: Italian

At London's The River Café, initially established by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers and now run by Ruth Rogers is an almost perfect restaurant where the apparent simplicity of the food on the plate disguises the complexity of what must happen behind the scenes to achieve such a stunning result! We love it.
It is not often that we experience a meal that we regard as being as close to perfection as a restaurant is likely to achieve. We had such a meal at The River Café in London.
Everything about this charming venue is understated. Firstly you must take a journey to Hammersmith and then pass by the Charing Cross Hospital and then weave through some back streets to find it.
It doesn't loom brazenly over to Thames, but sits rather shyly back from the water.
It doesn't gleam with plush leather and chrome like some, nor are the walls adorned with expensive works of art or bold colours. The white walls are uninterrupted except for the image of a clock projected onto one wall.
The kitchen and bar are the main features with large angled panels providing a frame for the restaurant. Blue carpet and metallic chairs accompany tables lined with good linen covered with paper. Sea salt and cracked black pepper are already on the table.
Staff are attentive and helpful - there is no hint of haughtiness, they seem anxious to provide every assistance.
An aperitivo of prosecco with fresh pomegranate sets the scene as we peruse the menu. Slices of good bread arrive accompanied by a superb olive oil. We start to appreciate that only the very best ingredients will be served.
By this stage we had read the menu and wanted every dish. We decided to go for broke. We started with two dishes that may not have been interesting in a lesser restaurant - here they were amazing. The first was a simple dish of cicoria shoots with an almost vanishingly light dressing of anchovies, chilli and herb vinegar - the vegetable was as fresh as nature allows and the dressing brought out its flavour perfectly. The second was an almost jaw-dropping combination of thin slices of smoked eel served with a small celery and caper salad and dressed with a horseradish and crème fraiche sauce that perfectly balanced the richness of the main ingredient. Both dishes relied absolutely on the highest quality ingredients combined with an enviable skill in balancing those ingredients.
Mercifully, there was no stacking, moulding or contorting of the food on the plate - just perfect ingredients presented simply but well.
Two contrasting and equally lovely pasta dishes followed. Freshly-made taglierini was lightly tossed with some very fresh, succulent crab, flavoured with slices of fennel and dressed with chilli and lemon. A more robust dish of pappardelle was tossed with a duck ragu that had been built on red wine, tomato and pancetta. They were two of the best pasta dishes we have ever eaten. We enjoyed an oaky, vibrant yellow Anselmi Capitel Croce Garganega with this course.
Main courses saw a dish of Scottish scallops served on a bed of rape and flecked with a sauce of anchovy and rosemary. Four plump, sweet bivalves were magically enhanced by the sauce and the sweetness was a great foil to the brooding greens below. The largest dish was a Bollito Misto that included brisket, some flavourful hen, ox tongue, zampone and veal shin in a deeply-flavoured broth. This stood up well against a bold Felsina Chianti that was served by the glass.
Our years of training came to the fore and we ordered desserts. And weren't we glad we did! A trembling, wobbly, creamy, vanilla-flecked pannacotta arrived accompanied by some lovely baked rhubarb. If the smoked eel started the meal with perfection, the pannacotta was a fitting finale! Amazing! A simple wedge of pear tart was also a study in restraint and complexity.
We thoroughly enjoyed the wines on offer, especially as so many award-winning wines are offered by the glass thus allowing us to more closely match the wines with the food.
The River Café is expensive, but it is the complete package. Food just doesn't work this well unless there is complete attention paid to every single aspect of the selection, preparation and service of the food. It's wonderful to find somewhere where they 'get it right'!
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