Monday, December 20, 2010
There are very few restaurants that actually impress me anymore. Call it vanity, or just experience. But it's true. In order for a restaurant to rate highly on my gastronomic-excitement meter it needs to be fairly brilliant. The River Cafe in the borough of Hammersmith in London is just that kind of restaurant. And it's no wonder when chefs like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have called this place home.
Being American, my guests and I were slightly early, as usual. This annoyed the attractive girl that checked us in but only for a moment. We were seated at their very long bar and asked several times if we'd like a drink. As it had just passed noon we declined the offer. At this time the restaurant was completely empty, except for the three of us and the staff, who were having a meeting near the open plan kitchen.
As the minute hand got closer to 12:30pm, the time in which The River Cafe actually opens, the restaurant became filled with anxious, hungry diners. Our waitress ushered us to our table, which was in the middle of the restaurant and I threw a mini tantrum. Exclaiming to her that I had expressly asked for a table by the window and that this simply wouldn't do. Scenes from American Psycho reverberated through my mind, "I'm on the verge of tears by the time we arrive at Espace, since I'm positive we won't have a decent table. But we do, and relief washes over me in an awesome wave." With a few exhalations of slight annoyance she led us to another table that was not only by the window, but right next to the kitchen and more importantly, the stunning wood fired oven.
After I got over the shock of seeing the extortionate prices, £30-£36 for an entree, I ordered for the table. We all watched expectantly as our first course was served, Calamari ai Ferri-Chargrilled Squid with Fresh Red Chili & Rocket. At most restaurants Calamari is served in tiny, thin strips, all tangled together. These were chunky, beautiful, busty strips that reeked of freshness. The spicy Chili was a fine compliment to the delicate Squid.
If I had left the restaurant at this point I still would have rated it very high. But there was more. My Pernice al Forno-Whole Partridge Stuffed with Sage, Wood-Roasted in Amarone with English Porcini Bruschetta was one of the best dishes I have ever had the pleasure of putting into my mouth. And it was cooked 5 feet from my face. The meat was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The English Porcini Mushrooms were soaked in butter and olive oil, but had a sort of Utopian flavor.
My fellow diner's were also in awe as they sat there enjoying and contemplating each and every bite. I inched my fork ever so carefully towards my wife's Coscia d'Agnello ai Ferri-Chargrilled Marinated Leg of Lamb with Salsa Verde, Wood-Roasted Pumpkin, Celeriac, Tomato and Florence Fennel. Which was yet another nonpareil dish.
Could the three of us all been blessed enough to order perfect dishes? The Maiale al Forno-Middlewhite Pork Leg Wrapped in Coppa di Parma, Cooked in Fiano d'Avelino with Fresh Cannellini Beans and Cima di Rape confirmed it. The River Cafe can do no wrong. For dessert we all shared the Caramel Ice Cream. Which is made from burnt sugar and cream. And nothing else! I loved it.
I left with one regret. That I didn't have a tree that grew endless amounts of money. Because if I did, I would be at The River Cafe every day of my life.
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