Friday started off ominously with a 10:30 am dentist appointment. This was the main reason that I had planned a trip to London. After a half hour appointment where we both babbled like spring brooks on our favorite subjects (he on skiing and me about food) he gave me all clear. Hooray! I was free to eat.I had a 2:15 lunch date at The River Cafe but being so close to Maryelebone High Street meant that I just had to pop into La Fromagerie. And once I was there, I simply had to order a small cheese plate – “2:15 is rather late for lunch”, my bad angel justified to the good angel sitting on my right shoulder and scolding me for gluttony.
If you’ve been to La Fromagerie before, you know exactly why I succumbed, if you haven’t, well…why on earth not? I must confess to craving cheese even less than I crave meat. Not because I don’t like it but rather because there are so many inferior mass market concoctions out there, that I just can’t be bothered to consume the calories. Not so with Patricia and Danny Michelson’s shop. There is a large cheese room, with cheeses sitting prettily on straw mats in various stages of ripeness. The cheeses come from small producers in Europe and the care and knowledge with which they are picked and stored means they are some of the best cheeses money can buy (a good source for British cheeses is Neal’s Yard Dairy, more on that tomorrow).Equally perfect is the cafe and shop, it has the cluttered feel of your grandmother’s house but everything inside is covetable. I have even found myself contemplating buying one of the small stuffed cows or goats that peer down at you from ledges throughout the shop. Beyond the cheese plate, everything on the lunch menu is delicious, I particularly like the fish plate with toast and caperberries. About the only thing I wouldn’t recommend is the coffee, somehow it is never quite as good as everything else.
On to the River Cafe. My good friend over at LDNEATSNYC tipped me off to a special Winter Set Lunch Menu (2 courses for £22, 2 courses + dessert £28. Available until 31st of March). I allocated an hour to get there, thinking if I arrived early, I could always read my new book, Germania. But cracking the conduct of the indigenous population of my host country was not on the cards that day because the River Cafe is a brisk 15 minute walk from the closest tube station (Hammersmith) and getting to Hammersmith takes a while. I arrived at 2:16, ever so slightly out of breath.The large, well-lit dinning room was full, even at that late hour, this is a true testament of how truly extraordinary The River Cafe is. (The founders and current owners, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers were recently awarded MBE’s) I ordered the Cornish crab to start followed by the seared calf’s liver. What a delight. The Cornish crab consisted of a big pile of flaked white meat and a smaller one of brown, there was a thick slice of fennel that must have been braised before being chared on the grill, a blob of olive mayonnaise and finally a doorstop of chewy sourdough sporting black stripes from the grill. Such simple fare but each thing was the best of its kind and perfectly cooked. Best thing I ate all weekend.
The seared calf’s river was dreamy, not a sinew in sight, well browned on the outside and creamy on the inside. With sage, small capers and browned butter. To end, we both had a panna cotta so delicately set that it was half the height of the dariole mould from which it had come and perfectly pink poached rhubarb. Our lunch lasted two and a half hours because besides fabulous food, it’s a great space, with a lovely busy buzz and you don’t notice the time passing.
For dinner, I had arranged to meet my sister and a former Leiths colleague at Morito at Exmouth Market. We arrived at the ill-advised time of 8:30 pm (on a saturday) and were greeted by an extremely unfriendly Maitre ‘D / doorman who informed us that it would be a very long wait “at least 1 1/2 hours”. He seemed annoyed when we said we were happy to wait and gave him our number.
We finally sat down at 10 pm at the bar in the window. We ordered 10 tapas to share. The seafood ones; clams, shrimp and fried squid were reminiscent of Barrafina but not quite as good. A truly outstanding dish that night was the aubergine in pomegranate molasses, fat slices, crispy on the outside and like custard on the inside. Delicious. We all also enjoyed the sherry mojitos. Don’t go at peak times, it’s hard to justify waiting that long for a meal (I can because I was on such a short trip, I didn’t want to compromise and eat somewhere mediocre). Not sure why the door guy had such a bee in his bonnet that night, he did taint our evening some what, which is always a pity, especially when the kitchen is working so hard to please. The next post will also be about London and after that I will return to regular scheduled programming.
2-6 Moxon Street
London W1U 4EW
The River Cafe
Rainville Rd, London W6 9HA
020 7386 4200
32 Exmouth Market