"If ever there was a place that could be described as a la mode, this is it...the staff look like the type of person you would see cruising round town on a fixie bike with their D-lock stuffed down their pants..."
Being taken out for lunch by the new boss is fraught with difficulty. Is it acceptable to order wine on a Monday? Can you take the lead when it comes to ordering the food? Is it appropriate to enquire about their private life? And more importantly, what do you do when they continually check their blackberry instead of making conversation...?
It is obviously tempting here to launch into a generic rant about the terrors of modern life; however, I am going to restrain myself, because on this occasion it gave me ample time to have a good look around the Riding House Cafe, think a bit about the food and form a considered opinion that I can pass on to you.
There’s been a bit of a buzz about the RHC recently; it has been fairly heavily reviewed since opening a few months ago, and in retrospect you can see why. If ever there was a place that could be described as a la mode, this is it. The RHC sits on Great Tichfield Street in Fitzrovia amidst a sea of PR, marketing, production and fashion houses; the staff look like the type of person you would see cruising round town on a fixie bike with their D-lock stuffed down their pants; pretty much every other male customer had apparently bought their trousers to grow into and so were forced to turn them up at the ankle, and the menu partly employs the now ubiquitous tasting plate format used by so many other London places that I can’t be arsed to name them.
So when I was invited to choose somewhere for lunch by my new boss, it seemed the obvious choice as it’s only a couple of minutes from my office and I wanted to see what the fuss was about.
First impressions I have to say were very favourable and a lot of care has obviously been taken in the interior design. Half the room has been decked out in wood panelling, with the bright orange banquettes and stuffed squirrels which adorn the walls providing some light relief (in both senses of the word). The other side of the divide was slightly more modern in appearance and there was a long refectory table and some appealing looking seats at the bar, which looked ideal for the solo diner. Although the RHC does seem like the kind of place where you’d have to be pretty self-assured to turn up stag.
They obviously took one look at me and thought I was to the manor born, so it was a left turn for the wood panelling and orange banquettes. Turning my attention to the menu, I was actually delighted to see a variety of tasting / sharing plates on offer. If I sound slight disingenuous there I don’t mean to, I really like having the chance to try more of what is on offer than the standard starter, main, dessert, and if you are dining with a member of the fairer sex there’s usually the chance to bag more than your fair share (unless it is with my perennially hungry girlfriend). Thankfully therefore my suggestion to choose a few of these plates to share as a starter was authorised by the boss.
Before they arrived, some bread and olives were brought along to take the edge off my appetite. Usually I turn down this attempt to add a fiver onto the bill, but the olives were some of the best I have tasted and the bread was very good. Although why they brought olive oil instead of butter I have no idea; as far as I am aware (and correct me if I am wrong) this isn’t really standard practice in any Mediterranean country and always reminds me of being in La Tasca.
So when the three starters arrived I wasn’t quite as hungry, which might explain the ever so slightly lukewarm reception I gave them. These tasting plates should provide little mouthfuls of punchy flavour; if you are digging into several different dishes at once there’s no room for subtleties and unfortunately I thought that two of the three were lacking in this respect. Beetroot carpaccio with sheeps ricotta was nice enough but nothing more than that and the Moorish lamb with smoked aubergine was similar. It was tasty but I couldn’t detect the Moorish flavouring or the smokiness in the aubergine. However, and this was a theme that ran through the whole meal, the cooking of the lamb was excellent - it was charred on the outside and juicy and pink in the middle (I would have done the old gnawing at the bone thing if I hadn’t been on best behaviour).
The pick of the bunch was the pork belly with cumin salt and as with the lamb the cooking was exemplary. If I had only had the one piece of pork I might have had another moan about the lack of flavour, but the piece that I traded for another helping of beetroot had plenty of earthy saltiness from the cumin salt and it was very good indeed.
The slight lack of punch persisted into my main course of spiced whiting. The waitress advertised it as being marinated in lemongrass, chilli etc., but not much of that came through in the finished dish. The fish was cooked nicely, but the lasting flavour was from the micro-herbs that had been scattered over it, which is probably a bit of a failure.
It being a Monday lunchtime, dessert was a Kitkat and a coffee back at my desk, and the rest of the afternoon to think about my lunch. It may sound like I didn’t think much of the food but that isn’t true. My criticism is more because the technical standard of the cooking and the service was very good, so it was a bit of a let down to be presented with food that didn’t quite live up to expectations. But as I always say, the true test of a restaurant is whether I will be back for more. In this case I will certainly return; to sample some more of the tasting plates and spend some of my own (and not my boss’s) cash.
The Riding House Café, 43-51 Great Tichfield Street, London, W1W 7PQ
020 7927 0840
Open all day Monday to Sunday