River Café


In many ways, when I set out to experience a fine dining restaurant, I expect to be amazed. Amazed by the careful choice of exotic ingredients and the unusual combinations of the chef creating interesting dishes. But to say that I have encountered this when I recently visited River Café restaurant in Hammersmith, is a gross understatement. In fact, River Café has challenged my notion of fine cooking to date. It was not that the restaurant did not offer delicious Italian dishes. Quite the opposite; the selection and the combination of ingredients had been carefully thought. It was rather the proof that everyday ingredients – pasta, rice, greens and beans – if cooked properly, may outperform more expensive combinations like lobster, caviar and paté, typically on offer at other restaurants.

The garden of the restaurant on a sunny April day

The garden of the restaurant on a sunny April day

The philosophy of simplicity is instilled in every corner in this restaurant. The dining, space, a big rectangular space is painted in tones of reassuring blue. The restaurant is bright, as one side is completely covered in windows overlooking the beautiful garden and river Thames. In fact, if the weather is nice, do not resist the temptation to dine outside. At one corner of the restaurant you will find the open plan kitchen and the majestic oven that is used to cook many of those wonderful dishes. In fact it looks as if you can easily walk to the kitchen – although we did not really try it – to see how your food is being prepared like you would in an Italian home. Etched glass and metal has been used extensively in the kitchen and the bar area, that cover most of one side and overlook at the dining area and the garden.

The oven at the open plan kitchen, © River Café

The oven at the open plan kitchen, © River Café

The service is impeccable, friendly and simple, without any signs of authority. And when it comes down to food, I do not remember experiencing something so delicious, yet so simple. As it happens with all the restaurants of fine dining, the menu changes daily, depending on what is fresh in the season. I visited the restaurant in April and the menu featured a variety of green and beans combined with fish and meat. We tried a spring pea risotto, spinach ravioli and spaghetti with Devon crab for first course and wood-roasted turbot, chargrilled sea bass and slow cooked osso bucco –veal- for main course. But it was neither the primi nor the secondi that have left me such a lasting impression – although they were cooked to perfection. It was the antipasti, the simple dishes offered at the start of the meal to prepare you for what is coming next. In the menu, prosciutto di parma with peas looked like a straightforward dish, but in reality, the saltiness of the meat with the sweetness and the oily texture of the slow cooked peas and cipolline onions, lifted the dish to a different level.

Whereas River Café is not exactly cheap, paying £50-70 per person (service inclusive) for a two-course lunch with antipasti and desserts represents a good value for money. It is only after you taste the food at the restaurant that you will realise what the restaurant truly has to offer.


(all images © LambdaPhage, except for the image of the oven)

P.S.1: One week after I visited the restaurant, I read that River Cafe is regarded the 8th best restaurant to eat in London and in the top 100 restaurants in the world. Yes, it all makes sense.

P.S.2: River Café is located at Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, London, W6 9HA (Google map, Google Street view) and the closet tube station is Hammersmith.


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