"You better put this up before you ship out," TT insisted. Fans of River Cafe, look away now.
My quest for the best value gourmet set lunch sent me half way across town to River Cafe. River Cafe is well known for its Italian cuisine as well as the number of top chefs it has trained but I have been put off trying the restaurant as it is out of the way and its prices are ridiculously high. An antipasti could cost £17 with the ala carte menu. However my interest in the restaurant was revived when it was featured in Giles Coren's list of top restaurants and on finding out that it is doing a special winter set lunch on weekdays (2 courses for £28, a promotion which ran till 21 March), I called the restaurant and reserved a table.
We went on a crisp January morning. The restaurant was a long trek from the Tube station and we had quite a brisk walk along the river before finally spitting the restaurant. Even then we had to ask around before finally locating the entrance to the restaurant. The restaurant had a bright modern interior with a stark white oven as its centrepiece. An interesting touch was the projection of a giant clockface on the wall. A giant timepiece without taking up any space, that was a very clever idea indeed.
What struck me upon entering the restaurant was how busy the restaurant was even though it was a Friday afternoon. We were greeted and shown to our table promptly. There were many service staff milling around but somehow it proved to be difficult to get their attention at times. Service was efficient once you managed to get their attention though at times I felt it could do with a little more charm.
For starters, I had bruschetta con granchio (fresh Devon crab bruschetta with spinach & wild rocket, lemon and aioli) while my friend had the calamari ferri (chargrilled squid with chilli). There was the slightest hint of spice in the crab bruschetta which made it it interesting but the calamari ferri was clearly the better of the two. The squid was succulent and tender, something which I have always found difficult to achieve in the kitchen when grilling squid.
I opted for fritti misto (deep fried mullet and vegetables) for my main. I was rather surprised to find what appeared to be random fish parts thrown together haphazardly on a plate presented to me. The batter did not work for me. It tasted grainy and that left a peculiar aftertaste. The fish itself was very fresh and it was a pity that the batter did not do it justice.
My friend had the branzino ai ferri (chargrilled wild sea bass fillets with spinach). That should have been a winner but it wasn't as the skin was so charred at parts that it was really bitter.
My verdict on River Cafe: overpriced and not worth the hype, certainly not worth the trek across town. My mission on a good value gourmet set lunch has been disappointing so far. Does it really exist?
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