Well, the kitchen boy (yes, I’m still going to call him that) and I still haven’t managed to get away for that gastronomic weekend but we did have a very splendid weekend recently, of which the highlight was, you’ve guessed it, the food!
As it was his birthday weekend I agreed to go with him to watch Fulham play at home and to make that a little more tempting I suggested lunch first at the River Café, having cleverly remembered that it is a mere stone’s throw from the Cottage.
I love the River Café, having eaten there several times, and I can quite honestly say I was infinitely more excited about the prospect of lunch than I was about the football! It served some of the simplest, yet tastiest, food I have ever eaten and I was eager to see if this was still the case. After a warm welcome, we sat down and had a glass of champagne and a few pieces of the most delicious farinata (a sort of thick pancake thing made with chickpea flour and baked in the oven) while we looked over the menu. The staff are very attentive and happy to answer lots of questions or give advice.
All the starters on the menu sounded fantastic and I really, really struggled to make a choice of just one! But in the end I opted for the Gamberetti Fritti, or Deep Fried Poole Prawns and Violetta Artichokes. The kitchen boy went for the Mozzarella di Bufala with Agretti (looks a little like grass but tastes a little like spinach), slow-cooked tomato and pangrattato (fried bread crumbs). This was a dish I’d quite fancied too so I was pleased that we could indulge in a bit of sharing!
All the main courses looked fantastic too and again it was too, too difficult to make a decision but I finally resolved to go for the chargrilled marinated leg of lamb with Florence fennel, black olives and chard “parmigiani”. And the kitchen boy picked the whole Dover sole roasted with capers, marjoram and lemon and served with Tuscan potatoes and artichokes “al forno”.
Watching the waiting staff deliver food to other tables I was almost delirious with desire by the time our starters arrived. My prawns and artichokes were deep-fried whole in a light batter, like a fritto misto, and served with simply a large piece of lemon to squeeze over. They were delicious, small and delicate enough to eat whole, the gently crispy shells delivering a satisfying crunch ahead of the sweet softness inside. The kitchen boy’s mozzarella was predictably perfect! There is something so comforting about the clean, milky taste of fresh buffalo mozzarella and the tomato and agretti complimented it beautifully.
My main course of lamb was so, so good as well; it was perfectly pink and cooked, while the flavour of the marinade, garlic and rosemary I think, still lingered, mingling with the ever so subtle char-grilled flavour. The gentle “parmigiani” was a fine accompaniment to this; anything stronger would have detracted from the lamb. The kitchen boy’s sole was good too, well cooked and delivered some punchy flavours, but I’m glad I went for the lamb.
To accompany our food we went for a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino, a current favourite of ours. Its light savouriness meant that it worked with all our dishes even the prawns and fish.
For pudding I chose the Pannacotta with Grappa and Rhubarb; it was a perfectly good one, although I wasn’t sure if there was any grappa anywhere, and the rhubarb was a tart foil to the sweet creaminess. Kitchen boy had the Affogato, espresso poured over vanilla ice-cream, which he loved.
So, all in all, a pretty amazing meal. My expectations were met and days later I’m still tasting it and wishing I was back there. The atmosphere is great, it just feels very special and I think it’s the perfect place for a celebratory meal. Be warned though, it is pricey; starters an average of £20, mains £37. But then, such fine ingredients simply don’t come cheap.