Monday 6 June 2011

The River Cafe, Hammersmith

Linguini with broad bean puree, mint and pecorino

If you live in London and like your food, you already know about The River Cafe. The grand Nonna of simple, fresh, seasonal Italian dining in London has launched the careers of several of today's hot chefs. In its day, The River Cafe was revolutionary for its seasonal, twice daily changing menu and open kitchen. Today, it's still all very lovely even if it isn't as memorable for standing out above the fold of the new wave of Italian restaurants in London.

I've been twice now, for dinner in winter a couple of years ago, and for a summery lunch recently with some girlfriends.

Fritto Misto

After a girlishly pink Rossini (Prosecco with crushed strawberries), some antipasti plates were pretty as a picture - light, perfectly crunchy vegetable fritto misto, creamy prosciutto and bright and chirpy asparagus with lush buffalo mozzarella and greeny olive oil.


Buffalo mozzarella with asparagus & olive oil

My linguini with broad bean puree, cream, mint and pecorino was light and fresh, the pasta cooked just right. However, it did become a bit same same after a few bites. Same goes for the hand cut tagliatelle with a summery pomodoro sauce, although my friend's ravioli stuffed plumply with buffalo ricotta (and with - I think - marinated tomatoes and basil) was probably a highlight among the pastas.

You'll pay through the nose of course because it's The River Cafe (antipasti generally range from £15-£18, pastas at £15 and mains from £32 upwards). And you can't actually see the water from the restaurant, so don't make the schlepp to the middle of nowhere in Hammersmith expecting to have the Thames floating past your seat.

Our sommelier picked a great bottle of white to match our mood, but other than that nothing about the service leaves a lasting impression either way.

It's all very nice. But, as much as the loyalists won't like me saying it, for my money, I prefer Bocca di Lupo, Tinello, Trullo or Zucca. There, I said it.

The River Cafe, Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, Hammersmith, London W6 9HA (Tel: 020 7386 4200)

River Cafe on Urbanspoon


  1. I must admit the one thing - no, two things - that have always put me off going to TRC are firstly the schlep and secondly, those *absurd* prices. Sure they're renowned for using very good ingredients, but so, too, are (as you say) Bocca di Lupo and Trullo - co-owned, let's not forget, by a River Cafe alumnus - and they charge less than half what TRC does. I just can't see how they justify - and survive despite - these crazy prices.

  2. Agree. Went to Zucca on Friday and had the most 'mazing veal chop. Perfectly seasoned and the size of my head... £14. Looking at the TRC menu and the same dish is £34. I don't remember TRC being that much better!


  3. Totally agree-looks alright but not for those priced. Went to trullo tonight-looks about the same standard but for much cheaper...

  4. Believe it or not, I've not been to The River Cafe. It's just one of those places that you know that you'll end up going but just put it off. Prices do seem to be on the high side. I've been told that it's quite difficult to get a table, is that right?

    Oh, the vegetable fritto misto looks great! I would imagine that they taste like the Italian version of the Japanese tempura. :)

  5. I feel exactly the same way. It was nice but inmemorable and I'll probably head to other places before coming back here.

  6. They justify it because of the popularity of their yellow, blue and green cookbooks which is why they are still in business. Fair enough

    Sure it is all enjoyable homely food with sensational ingredients, but it all turns a bit sour when you get the bill !!!!

    Go elsewhere.

  7. Great pics, good quality food, crazy prices!
    I once lived just around the corner from TRC and always steered away 'cause of the crazy prices!!


  8. Anonymous07 June, 2011

    I absolutely love the River Cafe. It's pretty local to me and have been going there with my family for a fair few years when we have a very special occasion to celebrate. Pastas are always delicious, but I think the mains are where they really shine with incredible fish and meat so beautifully cooked. Yes it's expensive, yes there are other great competitors (I didn't find Bocca or Trullo quite as incredible tasting, although they are arguably slightly more adventurous) but it's still top of my list. The one downfall on my argument - I've never paid :-) Always been taken for meals there so if I had to fork out of my own pocket I might think a little differently! Going this week for a family birthday so will let you know how it goes!

  9. Me too! The food is definitely not worse at Zucca or Tinello and you can eat there twice for the money you spend at River Cafe. Well, that's an easy decision...

  10. Thanks for the vicarious visit- haven't made it over yet- I guess I'm subconsciously saving it up for a special occasion. Which, with those prices, it sounds like it warrants.

  11. Anonymous08 June, 2011

    Nice review. My review of RC is here . I agree that the prices are extortionate, but it is a London institution that pretty much started the italian restaurant movement which involved fresh seasonal produce and daily changing menus. Also it's interesting to note that somewhere like Trullo, officially wouldn't exist if it hadn't have been for the River Cafe, with the passion for it's ethos and devotion to quality seasonal produce. The owner/head chef of Trullo was trained by Jamie Oliver, like me, who imprinted the River Cafe ethos into us. I will always think it holds a special place on the London scene for how it's revitalised Italian restaurants in England.
    However, I am looking forward to checking out Zucca as a recommendation of yours because I do love trying out new Italian restaurants, especially if you think it's better value. After all, who doesn't like getting more for their money!

  12. I hear that this and Zucca are the two best Italian places in London. I haven't been to either! sad face. does look delicious though!

  13. r from trieste16 December, 2011

    linguine is the right spelling..!


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