Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Riding House Cafe, Great Titchfield Street, W1

So thanks to gradually building up a fairly steady list of good food twitter-types that I follow, I was alerted, in a roundabout way, to the opening of the Riding House Cafe - and not only that, but a 50% off soft opening offer! 
For starters, it's in Fitzrovia/Noho/what most people call "North of Oxford Street", which is sorely lacking in good places to stop in for a bite to eat. Plus it's big inside, with one area (a long, rustic wooden table) purely for walk-ins - although the waitress I spoke to said that if demand is high, they might reserve spaces on that too. For now, though, that's the plan.
I liked the interior. Red leather sofas, proper wooden tables and no tablecloths, heavy silver candlesticks, fringed lampshades, reminding me of the bar area in the Hawksmoor Seven Dials. The other area is a high-ceilinged, and quite a bit noisier, with a bar where you can choose to eat if you prefer, plus the long table which is saved just for for walk ins. Although I do like the 'stripped down' rustic type decoration, I felt the authentically-chipped white water jug was a step too far, as were the authentically-damaged mirrors in the bathroom.  But crucially, it did all work, especially when factoring in the music that played over the sound system (the XX was playing while ordering, hah), which gives the place a nicely informal atmosphere.

Onto the food - we both had a cocktail while perusing the menu. I had a Raspberry and Elderflower Collins which was sadly a bit too much for me; a huge glass with no trace of elderflower, a strong whack of gin and fresh raspberry, which was still delicious but not the elegant concoction I'd hoping for. My boyfriend got on much better with a Pirate Daiquiri (lol) containing mostly Angostura bitters, rum, honey. The bread we ordered was gorgeous, lovely asparagus puree dip to go with, although I thought the olives were bland compared to the garlic-rosemary-salt-oil marinaded monsters I'm used to, so I'd skip those. 

I liked the type and layout of the menu - nice choice of wines on the back too. 
For starters, we absolutely hammered the small plates, ordering six dishes which was probably far too much. Each dish is £3, £4 or £5, so it's hard not to over-order when everything sounded amazing, I promise.
The standout for me was the sea bass ceviche with chilli and lime, sharp, tangy and fresh, then finishing on a wonderfully creamy sheep's ricotta with beetroot and the inspired addition of sunflower seeds to a dish, which gave it a wonderful earthiness usually imparted by an overabundance of watercress. 

Pork belly on the left, squid in the middle and poussin on the right
I was horribly disappointed by the pork belly though, I'm sorry to say. I love pork belly, when it's done right, and I'd heard such good things about the Riding House Cafe's one, but alas. Although the crackling was perfect, the meat was almost inedible for me. It was so dry that I ended up leaving most of it.
We also had a squid, chorizo and tomato dish, which was wonderful, and was my boyfriend's favourite, plus an anchovies-on-toast type dish (which needed more salt to feel properly anchovie-y to me, but that could just be my strange tastes.) The last small dish we had was the grilled poussin kebab with lemon and couscous, which was delicately smokey and quite tasty. 

That alone, if you're wondering, would do lunch I feel, although I'm sure that's not the point. For main, I had a glass of Chenin Blanc which was excellent, and Heritage tomato tart (or 'heirloom tomatoes' as they're sometimes called but this isn't the post to get into it). The tart came with some outstandingly fresh, crunchy rocket on the side, a smear of glorious pesto, a few salad leaves and yellow and red little tomatoes scattered about. 

It was utterly delicious - no heavy pastry, but rather a round of cheesy, crispy, buttery, flaky heaven, baked with some thin slices of tomato, topped with two generous quivering mounds of milky mozzarella. It was just perfect for me.

On the other hand, my boyfriend ordered the rack of pork with lentils and spicy sausage. For starters, the rack of pork was absolutely enormous. He doesn't tend to leave food on his plate all that often (even managing to salvage the uneaten pork belly earlier by dipping it in the squid and tomato sauce) but even he couldn't finish this mammoth serving. So be warned.

Tastewise though, the sausage was meaty and smokey, just what it should have been. The horseradish was creamy, and could have been a little hotter, but overall the dish was nice balance of the pork, the crispy skin in particular adding fantastic crunch.
Bad photo, sorry!
For dessert, we (just about managed to) order the Chocolate Praline Semifreddo and mother of god, I'm so happy we did. Every good restaurant should send you home with at least one dish that you talk about on the bus, and that was this dish for us. A glorious rectangle of creamy, cold praline chocolate, edged with a brownie-type cake, with raspberry coulis and an amazing crunchy circle of cold caramel with nuts (almonds?) and pistachios. It was so perfect in the balance of texture, the sharpness of the raspberry, the richness of the chocolate. And a huge portion too - after all that, me and my boyfriend were quite stuffed and glad we were sharing.
The bill was also most reasonable. Around £60 for all the food for two, and we also sank about £25 into drinks. Then the magic of the soft opening happened where it's 50% off, so in total we paid about £63 including service charge.
They're doing the soft opening offer until May the 3rd, so if you can nab a table, I would definitely recommend doing so. And unlike Nopi, (where I also availed of the soft opening offer), I still think it was great value for what it was. Plus there's no reason to order six bloomin starter plates. Or alternatively, skip on the main. I'm keen to go back some afternoon and just have a bunch of teeny plates at the bar. 

The Riding House Cafe,  43-51 Great Titchfield Street London W1W 7PQ 020 7927 0840

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  1. Great review - I'm off to eat here tomorrow, hoping that I will experience a better pork belly, damnit I really do feel like some good pork fat...

  2. Hey Nancy, I was a little disappointed by the pork belly too. My waiter made up for it by accidentally calling me babe as he cleared my plates. Almost as embarrassing as calling your teacher Mum I would think.

  3. Glad to hear I wasn't alone - although sorry that you were disappointed! A friend of mine went back twice and enjoyed the pork belly a great deal, so I feel I've missed out on something :grumble:


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