For years I've wanted to eat at The River Cafe in London and in early September I finally got my chance. This restaurant is a firmly established institution in London, and it's all about Italian food and wine. The menu changes twice daily and is based on the finest seasonal ingredients available—many, I've been told flown in daily from Italy (though I did not actually ask if that is true).
The sublime food depends on the quality of the ingredients and the discipline to keep it simple, which is the essence of great Italian food.
We started with a Bellini which is a fabulous drink made with Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, and freshly crushed peaches. It transported me back to memories of my time in Venice sipping one at Harry's Bar. For a salad, I had the insalata di fici neri, (black figs with traditional balsamic vinegar, mint and rocket lettuce). Perfectly simple and the figs were perfectly ripe.
For the main course one of my dinner companions ordered the branzino in cartoccio, wild sea bass fillet baked in a bag with fresh porcini, thyme, butter and Greco Marlise. It was one of the best fish dishes I've ever had. The infusion of flavors and the texture of the fish was poetic. I had the stinco di vitello(veal shin slow roasted with thyme, garlic and Chardonnay with gremolata). It was cooked to perfection and the meat was falling off the bone and melted in my mouth. There is a light hand in the kitchen, which I love; nothing is oversalted or too oily.
The wine list is spectacular, and if you love Italian wine as much as I do, you have lots of choices. We started with a 2005 Moscato Giallo "Vogelmeier" from Alois Lageder that was crisp and refreshing. The unique fruit from the Moscato grape was so alive in the glass. We followed with a bottle of 1998 Valpolicella Classico Superiore from Giuseppe Quintarelli, which was lovely with all our entrees. They also have a great selection of older vintages.
We ended our meal with some delicious Italian cheeses for dessert, a perfect ending. On the bottom of the menu they say "We regret that due to a planning restriction all customers are required to vacate the premises by 11PM." I found that odd, but sure enough when the bewitching hour approached, bills came by pretty timely, service was very attentive and the restaurant emptied out.
All in all I was not disappointed in my pilgrimage to The River Cafe. My only warning is that it's pretty pricey. I guess flying over all those ingredients over does not help. The exchange rate is not in our favor either: the average entrée is 30 quid, around $60. But it was well worth it and I would go back. For those who may never get there the cookbooks are fantastic and available here.The River Cafe
_Thames Wharf_Rainville Road_London W6 9HA_011.44.20.7386.4200_www.rivercafe.co.ukPostscript to the River Cafe
Several friends have asked about an ingredient in my latest blog on the
River Cafe. The ingredient in question is Greco Marlise. Well, it's an
Italian white wine and I for one have never heard of it. I called the River
Cafe to find out more about the wine and they suggested using a chardonnay
in its place.
October 12, 2006