Good service is absolutely key when you’re running a restaurant. A friendly smile here, a kind word there, some extra attention paid. It can all help to smooth over a multitude of problems. Most people, myself included, can be incredibly forgiving if the service is good or a complaint has been handled professionally and with a bit of charm. To put it bluntly, if I’m handing over my hard earned cash to eat at your restaurant, I expect a friendly welcome and some looking after. I mean, if I really wanted sullen cheerless service, I’d eat ‘E’s food at home, (I'm kidding of course)
Unfortunately, it seems that one member of the front of house staff at the recently opened Riding House Café didn’t get the memo. Our very first impressions upon entering the place were tainted somewhat by an unsmiling, glacial, unwelcoming but oh so trendily attired, fashion model proportioned, lanky greeter, who rubbed his designer stubble and sized us up from a vantage point that seemed to be located somewhere between an arched eyebrow and down his nose.
“Table for two?”
We followed as he pranced and sashayed through the restaurant as if on a catwalk, before gesturing silently to an empty table and tossing two menus onto it without even breaking stride as he continued on, to chat to someone at the bar.
What an absolutely abysmal start.
‘E’ and I looked at each other; eyebrows raised quizzically. We then began an urgent hissed and muttered conversation on how to deal with such awful initial service. We decided against walking straight out, because we were there now, we were hungry and we really wanted to give it a try. The reviews for the most part had been fairly positive and we were curious. But don’t think for one minute that the poor attitude hadn’t been noted. We didn’t like the cut of his jib one little bit.
Looking around us there was no doubting that the restaurant fit out has been done fantastically well. What an absolutely beautiful and interesting looking space. There’d obviously been no expense spared and no detail overlooked. Lovely, and I’d imagine a pretty good place to prop up the bar on a Friday night.
Glancing at the menus, it seems that we’d unwittingly timed our arrival in a sort of ‘menu no-mans land’, not quite lunch and not quite dinner. Only a hand full of the mains were available, and a selection of the menu’s small plates, which is The Riding House Café’s ‘thing’.
Not really fancying any of the available larger dishes, we decided to order a few of the small plates to share. All are priced between £3 and £5 and don’t appear to be influenced by any particular country or cooking style.
A bowl of spicy broad beans were a pretty standard nibble, and priced at £1.50
The bread selection with artichoke puree was far more interesting. The bread was pretty decent and the puree bloody gorgeous. Well worth the £1.50
A bowl of veal and pork sausage, lentils, mustard and sage was pretty good, the mustard sauce was perhaps a bit over salty but I’d have happily paid more money and stuffed a bigger portion of this.
Pipérade, anchovy, basil was a disaster in the offing. Onions, peppers and tomatoes precariously perched on a wafer thin piece of toasted bread, just waiting to crumble and deposit the whole oily mess down your no doubt, white shirt. Happily I ate without incident, the anchovies were nice and fresh and it was pretty decent at £3
Beetroot carpaccio, sheep’s ricotta, merlot vinaigrette. So incredibly simple that I bet the kitchen is slinging these out in their sleep. But, it’s a small plate of decent ingredients that work well together. A scattering of pumpkin seeds added a nice bit of crunch. Yours for £3.
Finally, Atlantic Prawns, lemon and mayonnaise. Not a lot to say really, incredibly simple, unmucked about with, lovely fresh big prawns. Anyone who’s seen comedian Stewart Lee will know that massive prawns equal quality of life, so they get a big thumbs up. A bowl of these were £5
Sadly in this strange limbo time between lunch and dinner, the dessert options seemed to be severely limited to what was proffered by a (much more happier and professional) waitress from beneath a glass dome. Declining a lump of rocky road or a raspberry muffin type thing as just a bit too Starbucks for our liking, we, as the more sordid journalists often say, made our excuses and left…. pausing only momentarily to do the grown up thing and flick V’s in the general direction of the appallingly ignorant front of house model.
The Riding House Café is a fantastic looking restaurant and bar, beautifully and tastefully designed. I loved the look of it.
However, I didn’t love the ‘too cool’ service we received on our visit. It was frigging abysmal and goes a long way in undoing any wish I may have to return or recommend it. But, to be fair, it was just the one guy and if by now he hasn’t learnt to slap on a smile, do his job properly with a modicum of charm and the management is in any way competent, then he’ll have probably been given the boot. Harsh perhaps, but as my old Dad would say, tough titties.
The small plate idea is good, the prices reasonable and the food pretty good. Not setting the world alight, but not dropping any bollocks either. It performs the function of something to eat while you sip your drink in the rather fabulous surroundings admirably. I’ve heard the burgers are good, and if I’m in the area I might pop back to try one of the main dishes, but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to visit again.
The Riding House Café
43-51 Great Titchfield Street
Telephone: 020 7927 0840