Monday, 29 August 2011

The Riding House Café - London

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


miss south said...

You'd think one of the perks of the small plate thing is that you don't end up in a weird culinary cul de sac if you wander in for a late lunch or fancy a post shopping cocktail followed by something to soak up the booze.

Why Britain and oh so cosmopolitan London can't cope with people not eating at rigid times I do not know. It drives me nuts. Especially when accompanied by sniffy service...

Anonymous said...

Aside from the crummy service (which I luckily didn't get, but as you say, one person can make or break a dining experience) I totally agree with your review. Perfectly nice food, but nothing stunning; the decor is what makes the RHC stand out from the crowd.

I love the artichoke puree so much that I asked for the recipe via Twitter. Whoever does their social media) - I think the owners? - is charm itself and more than happy to share it. I've put it up on my blog if you fancy having a go! :-)

Dan said...

Miss South - I hadn't thought of that, although to be fair, a portion of the menu was available - just nothing much that I wanted to order. Sniffy service is a real sin though.

Thelittleloaf - Maybe he was having a bad day. I'm normally really easy going and quite forgiving, but this guy was awful enough that it really made both of us sit up and take notice.
Agreed, the decor is stunning. As for the artichoke puree, now that is good news. Probably the best thing we ate, and we came away wondering how it was made. Thanks for letting me know!

Le Vache said...

I have to say, I can't remember who was front of house when I went, but on the night, they had bee n inundated with table for *30* who didn't have a reservation. We didn't have a reservation, either, and because of this massive party, we were forced to prop up the bar for the better part of two hours before we got a table. Won't hold that against them, necessarily, but if it going to screw things up so badly, it might be worth restricting walk-in parties to 12 or 15.

Anywho, the point is, throughout our wait, I kept checking in with the reception and they couldn't have been more friendly. Seriously, really lovely. I think I know the smartly dressed guy you mean, and if it's the same guy, he was pretty friendly too.

I think you might have just caught the place on an off day or perhaps they only turn on the charm when it gets busier at night, but I would definitely give it another go. If for nothing else, than for that artichoke puree.

(PS The drinks menu was pretty great too.)

Erin said...

I went twice, once with my two-year old son. Nothing is more guaranteed to get a frigid reception than a toddler in a fashionable place! I had checked & they had high chairs, so I figured it was fine. The reception staff were friendly enough, switched my booked table quickly when they realised my buggy wouldn't fit. Waitress was stellar with Elliot. If I remember correctly, when was without E in tow, service was indifferent.

Graphic Foodie said...

No need for it. If you hate people don't get a job dealing with the public!

Food looks good though and really well priced. Small plate eating always puts me off as by the time you add your selection of £6-10 priced plates up plus vino you could have eaten in some of the most expensive restauratnts in the country! The above prices make more sense at least.

Dan said...

Le Vach - A walk in party of 30 would challenge any restaurant I reckon. I'm glad you had better service than I did, hopefully it was an off day for them when I visited and things are normally less frosty.

Erin - Nice that they looked after you and your toddler so well the first time, that's good, as you say, it's quite a fashionable place.

Graphic Foodie - Agreed. If the reception is poor, then it undoes everything else, no matter how good the place is.
The prices are pretty good, but as you say - small plate eating seems to add up pretty rapidly, especially when you factor in service (not that we paid it this time), and booze.

Greedy Diva said...

The service I had there was just a bit dispassionate and hopeless on one occassion, and OK on another, rather than rude - and I agree with your assessment that the food is quite nice but doesn't inspire a return visit, even for me, living very close by.

Hollow Legs said...

The burger, while it looked impressive was quite disappointing; the bun couldn't hold itself together in the weight of the meat.

Working next door as I do I've been in a few times both for food and just drinks and have always felt quite unwelcome. The vibe from the staff is chilly at best.

Dan said...

Greedy Diva - I reckon it'd be a pleasant place for a drink, there's no doubt the interior is absolutely gorgeous. The food despite being good isn't massively exciting.

Lizzie - Glad it's not just me then! And the burger not that great either. Ooooh