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Dinner at the River Cafe, London...BLECH!!

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Ate at the River Cafe tonight. My wife was dying to go after having eaten there in the past and loving it. Beautiful space. The menu reads pretty good, although not whoppingly inspired.
We (my wife and three kids) started with proscuitto and melon, which was delicious, a salad with gull eggs and asparagus, which was boring and undersalted, and grilled squid with peas.
That was followed by three primi courses. A risotto with proscutto, pasta with stinging nettles, and ravioli with ricotta and mint. The risotto was delicious but gone in three bites. All four of the ravioli were yummy. The other pasta was watery and overcooked.
For the mains we had a roasted pigeon and a veal shin. Both were vile. Both were grossly undersalted and the pigeon was as tough as a new sneaker. The veal shin which was off the bone (although still attached to plenty of tendon and other ineatable bits) came with more risotto.
Overall, this was far and away the worst meal of a week of eating in London. The best, by the way, were St. John and The Anchor and Hope. Not only was it the worst meal, but the price was insane; 250 pounds, and we didn't even stay for dessert! I know that peas, mint and proscuitto are in season, but they showed up in one form or another in EVERY freaking dish! Come on guys, try to change it up a little, will ya!?!?! Funny too, that with the insane prices you would think that the portion sizes would be reasonable. You would think that but you would be wrong. My nine year old even left hungry.
Overall, it'll be a cold day in hell before I go back. On the other hand, my kids did go nuts seeing Jack Black come out of the bathroom before their eyes.
Jack Black is cool, but not cool enough to justify ever going back to this decaying armpit.

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  1. IF your mains were as bad as you describe, why didn't you send them back?

    the river cafe's sourcing is beyond reproach, so what was the issue with the pigeon? overcooked?

    1 Reply
    1. re: batfink23

      They were terrible, and you are right, I should have sent them back. In fact, I should have sent back half that meal. It's not something I like to do. I can't vouch for the River Cafe's sourcing, but that pigeon could have come from Central Park in NYC. It was as tough as a NYC cop and as tasteless as the NY Post.

    2. Undersalted? Good for them!

      As someone who prefers to eat a low-salt diet, my normal gripe is that I sometimes find dishes too salty, albeit quite rarely these days, at least in the UK. The River Caff is to be congratulated in realising that folk have the nous to be able to pick up the salt cellar if they want more.

      That said, my thanks to thefish for improving my knowledge of "stuff". I'd previously never heard of Jack Black but have now Googled.

      1. "the amount of food ordered, seems reasonable. for 2 adults and 3 kids - without knowing more, don't think they under ordered, or deserve brick bats for expecting to not be hungry."

        It obviously depends on how old the kids are. Three growing teenagers are going to eat as much as three adults. But, it does seem odd to order 5 starter size dishes and only two mains and expect a famiy of five to fill up, unless that is, the kids are very young.

        My guess is the OP had not appreciated the River Cafe is a seriously expensive restaurant, so much so that critics on expenses consider it expensive (and that is saying something). Pure supposition: I expect sticker shock on opening the menu resulted in very controlled/conservative ordering. The succesful meals at SJ and the A&H
        are both retaurants who deliver very good value for money; I think there is a clue in this.

        Moral of the story: beware of very expensive restaurants that have a very narrow/extreme food philosophies. If they are not to your taste you won't like it. If they are to your taste it will be sheer perfection.

        4 Replies
        1. re: PhilD

          I agree with this. Also I think there's often a correlation between physical and mental satiation: if you've eaten a few mouthfuls of a series of stunning dishes, it can be as filling and satisfying as greasy spoon pig out. It's a mood thing. Portion sizes at A+H, St John and River Cafe are not wildly different, and though the first two flex heavier hands in the use of animal fats to beef up flavour and fillingness, there's no reason why a family of five used to eating out together couldn't be satisfied by sharing three starters and two mains (and pudding, if the going is good) if the food is enjoyable. Personally I think the River Cafe is fare game for criticisms about occasional slips, regardless of its air of perfectionism.

          1. re: PhilD

            I've eaten at plenty of expensive restaurants across the world and completely expected to pay top dollar (or top pound, in this case) at the River Cafe. What I didn't expect was to get a lousy meal. My girls, ages 9, 13, and 16, were the first ones to taste the pasta and immediately complained that it was overcooked. They were also spot on again, when they complained that the pigeon was inedible. Two nights before this debacle, they were sucking down venison heart with pickled walnut dressing at St. Johns and asking for more. St. Johns wasn't cheap either, but the meal was delicious and interesting.
            The lack of creativity or imagination at the River Cafe was stunning. Every bloody course had proscuitto, mint or peas in it.
            I''m all for simple, well-sourced ingredients treated simply. However, it then requires impeccable technique in the kitchen to pull off a successful dish. There was a distinct lack of skilled cooking at the River Cafe the night we ate there.
            I went to the River Cafe expecting a terrific and expensive meal, and they only got one part of that right; and not the part I would have preferred.

            1. re: thefish

              I can't dispute your assessment of the food, but I don't agree that River Cafe and St John are in a similar price range. At St John a starter averages £7.50 whilst the River Cafe is £14 for Antipasti or £12 for a Primi. Mains at St John average £16 whilst mains at River Cafe are £30. To me that is 100% more expensive.

              For London St John is cheap, there are few other Michelin 1 star restaurants delivering at this price point. As I said before RC has a reputation for being expensive. Does value for money influence an experience: absolutely.

              1. re: thefish

                Sorry about your experience at River Cafe, especially with your 3 daughters. I know what it feels like to spend so much money and come away completely unsatisfied. You probably were not expecting it, as your wife had had a good experience there before. My only suggestion would be: when you are paying that much money, if there is any doubt in your mind that the dish is substandard, do not hesitate to send it back to the kitchen and demand a replacement. And if they continue to be disappointing, make a fuss and leave the restaurant after paying them what you thought your meal to that point was worth.

            2. Hi:

              We have removed some posts that are more about the reviewer than the chow itself. Posts discussing one's experiences at the River Cafe, versus those of thefish are on topic, but please help us keep things civil by not calling out the poster for sharing his or her experiences.

              Thanks.