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River Cafe

Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, London, England, W6 9HA, United Kingdom

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The River Café opened in 1987, originally to feed the employees of the Richard Rogers architectural practice. It was run by Ruth Rogers (the wife of the architect) and Rose Gray, who sadly passed away in 2010. The restaurant has a cavernous dining room and, weather permitting, tables outside on the terrace. Despite the name and seemingly riverside location, there is no real river view even from the terrace, though if you walk a few yards after your meal then you can look over a wall that runs along this stretch of the river, and see the waters of the Thames. However, on a sunny day it is a pretty spot nonetheless. It gained a Michelin star in 1997, which it has retained ever since.

Starters began at £21, pasta dishes £20 to £25 and main courses £37 to £40, with desserts £10. Coffee was £3.50. The wine list offered selections such as Jermann Vinnae 2016 at £58 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £19, Rocca de Montegrossi Chianto Classico San Marcellino Riserva 2011 at £95 compared to its retail price of £36, and Antinori Tignanello 2013 at £220 for a label that will set you back £86 in a shop. To put that into context, in nearby Kensington, an older vintage of the Tignanello is on the list of Il Portico for £105.

I started with taglierini pasta with slow cooked tomato and basil. The pasta had good texture and the tomatoes, while not tasting like the best you get from the Amalfi coast, were certainly fine. However it was not a dazzling pasta dish as you might encounter at somewhere like Aimo e Nadia (barely 14/20). Wild sea bass was served with braised spinach, black olives and tomatoes from Sorrento. The fish was accurately cooked and had good flavour, and the olives were of nice quality; the spinach was cooked a tad more than I might have done at home, but was fine (just about 14/20).

For dessert I had summer pudding, which was pleasant enough but could have had a bit more of the juices of the fruit. The mixed red fruits themselves were pleasant, but this was not even the best summer pudding I ate this week; in particular, the fruit coulis lacked intensity. Adding enough blackcurrants to the fruit mix is, for me, the key to a top-notch summer pudding (13/20).

Service was very pleasant, quite attentive and the staff friendly, led by the suave Charles Pullan. As ever at the River Café, you sail through the meal thinking that this was a very pleasant experience. It is a nice spot on a sunny day like today, the menu is appealing, the ingredients good and the cooking competent. Then the bill arrives – with one of the cheaper wines available between three people, and one person only having a single savoury course, the cost per head was still £81. If you shared a modest bottle of wine, then three courses and coffee would typically set you back around £100 or more per head after service. This seemed to me an awful lot of money but what do I know? The restaurant did 250 covers yesterday at a single service, so clearly knows its market.

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Further reviews: 01st Dec 2008

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