Monday 9 May 2011

The Riding House Cafe, Fitzrovia

Chorizo hash cakes

I thought it might be love at first sight when I first walked into the dapper Riding House Cafe in Ftizrovia. But the love slowly waned, and now I think we might just be distant friends.

It's a great set up, with super potential. But it doesn't quite hit the mark - yet, anyway.

The Riding House cafe has recently come to Fitzrovia from the team behind Village East and The Garrison (a pub in Bermondsey which I love). It's an all day brasserie with a very funky, smart, yet comfy fit out - a restaurant area with big yellow light fittings and orange banquettes (which its own website accurately describes as Heinz Tomato Soup colour), a lovely long bar with high turquoise stools, bunches of lavendar are scattered along a big communal wooden table where groups of girlfriends meet for brunch time Bellinis, spacious round tables by the window and a loungey area for browsing through the papers over your coffee. So far so great.

The menu reads well too - breakfast includes buttermilk pancakes with berries, vanilla clotted cream and maple syrup, chilled grapefruit with ginger, sugar and mint (which is a staple of all our New York brunch favourites), or a peanut butter, banana, strawberry and apple juice smoothie. Lunch and dinner includes a lovely list of small plates (piperade, anchovy, basil; baby squid, chorizo, smoked paprika, chilli olives; slow roasted pork belly, cumin, salt; or lamb cutlets with smoked aubergine - from £3 to £5 each) and mains such as the Titchfield Burger with foie gras and fries (£13.90 or sweet potato and chickpea cake with halloumi and tomato jam (£12).

They only opened in April, so let me preface this post with a disclaimer on their behalf that they are still (obviously) settling in. But things were not running smoothly over Sunday brunch as we waited an age, as did surrounding tables, for some just alright fare to arrive. At least it did, which is more than I can say for my flat white (so, sadly I can't report back on the Caravan coffee). If there's one thing not to forget, it should be a patron's first coffee of the day (fortunately, I had already had one earlier and could see they were struggling so I didn't bother them with a reminder). I believe this was their first Sunday brunch opening, so it would be unfair not to put this down to some teething problems, but after 2 visits, I'm not overly inspired.

TPG's poached eggs on a very lightly, toasted-no-further-than-albino muffin, were fairly plain Jane - the eggs were oddly flavourless if poached to perfect gooeyness (£4). Same goes for those on my more exciting chorizo hash browns with spinach leaves, mushroom and 2 poached eggs (£8.50), which would otherwise have been good.

A Bloody Mary was a little light on the vodka and a little heavy on the Worcester, and the apple, beetroot, carrot and ginger juice (£4) was oddly super sweet as though there might have been some packaged rather than fresh apple juice in there.

The day before, I'd been for a light lunch with girlfriends. The small plates of bitter chicory, sweet pear, fine shavings of radish and lovely, creamy gorgonzola (tiny, but only £3) and cured sea trout with jalapeno and creme fraiche (£4) were gorgeous. You would need at least 3 or 4 small plates for a complete lunch if you're not having a main. The heritage tomato and pesto tart with buffalo mozzarella (£12.80) looked nice, but was the one thing I thought overpriced on an otherwise reasonably priced menu. Most of the girls went for the large chopped salad, with lettuce, avocado, palm heart, radish, Dijon mustard and grilled poussin (£13) which doesn't look special but was a taste hit with them all.

The front of house staff greeting you on entry are absolutely lovely, although service can be a little over attentive in areas where you don't need it - waiters filling up your water glass after each sip and explaining how a rather self explanatory menu works (it's pretty clear what small plates are - it's our first time in the restaurant, not our first day on earth). And while I'm very forgiving on hiccups to a newbie restaurant, and particularly one I walked in with such a soft spot for (even the tone of the website makes you want to love them), I can't help but think that some extra care and rapport developed between waiters and tables might help to hook people in to return just a little bit more.

At the moment, I'm putting this one down as one I thought I'd love, I'm disappointed not to, I hope they do well, but for now I'd rather grab my brunch from Kaffeine across the road. The earth didn't move.

The Riding House Cafe, 43-51 Great Titchfield St, London, W1W 7PQ (Tel: 020 7927 0840)

The Riding House Cafe on Urbanspoon


  1. Anonymous09 May, 2011

    That's the plainest plate of poached eggs I've ever seen in my life. They look so sad and tragic.

  2. Such a shame you didn't have great experiences at RHC; I've only been the once, for a late lunch, and thought it was an instant hit - up there even with my beloved Dean Street Townhouse! They seem a very responsive bunch so I'm sure your (as ever) fair comments will be taken on board.

  3. The muffin for the poached eggs looks anemic. And why is it we all feel the need to "forgive" restaurants during the opening stages. They opened. They decided they were ready for the world to come in. It seems more and more posts make graces for the beginning days. If the restaurant isnt ready, they should push the opening.

  4. Oh no. Is that an unbuttered muffin? It does look terribly anaemic. When I went I had a good breakfast, though one egg was perfect and the other cooked solid. I think I'll give them a couple of months before I make a return visit.

  5. Gin and Crumpets - :(

    Hugh - Actually, the decor reminds me very much of Dean St Townhouse, but it still felt like there was some polish to be done to the food and service at this stage.

    London Lady - Hmm, yes, charge full price and you have to be ready for constructive criticism, BUT restaurants can improve with time which is why I consider it reasonable to cut a bit of slack in the early days when you see potential.

    Lizzie - Wise move, I think. I haven't written them off, but I wasn't completely sold.

  6. Those muffins make me feel a bit ill. What an uninspiring dish to send out!

    I'd be embarrassed if I was the server.

    I've been to RHC twice now, and did quite enjoy it. Huge potential, but something isn't quite slick and clicking, in that NYC way they're aching for...

  7. Completely agree with Lizzie. Have read so many reviews where writer mentions restaurant is in the 'teething stages', should be given another chance, etc. I'm not being asked to pay any less because they aren't quite ready. Once the doors are opened to the public they should be ready to perform at their best.
    Sorry, I'm grumping like someone's forgotten my coffee!

  8. Oh no! I have only been once and loved it and can't wait to go back. Now I am in fear of the bland poached eggs!


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