RIDING HOUSE CAFE
43 Great Titchfield St, London, W1W 7PQ, 020 7927 0840
Cost per person without wine: £32.70
THERE’s a sense of familiarity when you walk in to the Riding House Café. Parquet flooring, tick, exposed brick walls, tick, hospital-style white tiles, tick, communal booth tables, tick tick tick. If you didn’t know any better you’d think you’d stepped in to East London eateries Shoreditch House or Pizza East. Even the staff are dressed similarly.
But this is not the East End. The Riding House Café is the latest addition to the Fitzrovia area, the quiet collection of roads above Oxford Street, and comes courtesy of respected restaurateurs Adam White and Clive Watson (who own both the highly successful pub The Garrison, and Village East, in Bermondsey).
And, while the influence – at least visually – of these Shoreditch hotspots – is clear, in this instance it’s no bad thing. In fact, it’s very very good. It’s like the best bits of the locale (the buzzy vibrant atmosphere) have been transplanted as a mini island. The Café only opened seven weeks ago and already is packed to the rafters. (The diners next to us are on their third visit, I discover.)
Food at the Riding House Café is described as “modern all-day brasserie” and is pitched at mid-weight prices. Starters at the Café are a mixture of small plates divided in to three price groups, designed to be eaten shared as a sort of “tapas” or individually. We opt for the salt cod fritters; the veal & pork sausage with lentils and sage, and the baby squid, chorizo with smoked paprika and chili. The fritters are light and the sausages’ salty juiciness works well with the lentils. For main, I go for a seared sea trout, with crab and leak salad and confit lemon vinaigrette. It’s light, perfectly cooked (served at that illusive turning point when the trout goes from raw to gentle pale pink), and the buttery leaks are cut through by the lemon. My guest’s choice is a little more ambitious: chorizo hash brown with poached eggs, which is gigantic. It’s delicious, the chili gives the hash a great kick, the potatoes are crumbly and the eggs are done just so. It’s just there’s half a ton of it. We decide it would be great for a hangover brunch dish but is a bit much for the evening. (Unless you haven’t eaten all day.)
Surprisingly, despite the gluttony, when the pudding menu comes we’re game. Here again, the portions are generous. My guest gets the rhubarb and raspberry fool with shortbread, which comes in a tumbler, layered. The rhubarb is fresh and tart, the fool is creamy and delicately sweet. I opt for the hot fudge Sunday, macaroons and honeycomb, which I also somehow manage to finish. It is pure filth in a glass: oozy chocolate, crunchy shards of homemade honeycomb, and ice cream. Divine.
The Riding House Café’s pitch is simple – Somewhere for locals to hang out on weekends, businesses to lunch and brunch mid-week, and for weary shopping folk to grab a bite to eat in the evenings. In all these respects it has succeeded. The bar is busy, but not overcrowded. The service is friendly and attentive but not overbearing. The food is simple but still interesting. It has also managed to be cool without feeling pretentious. Central London needs more of these.