In an astonishing turn of events, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband actually slept on the flight from Singapore – not enough to fend off the worst of jet lag but better than rocking back and forth for 13 hours reciting the mantra: ‘I’d like to get off, now’.

Have no fear. This foodie world blog is NOT about Qantas’ contribution to the world of gastronomy. That would be an exceedingly short post. Greedy Girl has arrived in London to visit some old favourite haunts and try what promises to be some of the most exciting food the UK has to offer.

Using London and ‘exciting food’ in the same sentence is a bit of a revelation. Having lived here and endured the disappointments of basic ploughman’s lunches in pubs and the never ending quest to try to get a ham and cheese toasted sandwich on British Rail (more on that later), finding good food that didn’t require a bank loan in the British capital was tricky. While the costs are still substantial (please dollar, hold on for a few more weeks), the range of food experiences and well-known chefs means your next good meal is around the corner – or, in our case, seven stops on the tube to Hammersmith and a wander down the Thames Path.

With a flight arriving around 5am, finding creative ways of staying awake to beat jet lag is important. On our last visit to London two years ago, inspired by re-runs of their cooking show, we booked lunch at the River Cafe – alma mater to a number of celebrity offspring, not the least of whom is Jamie Oliver. Battling sleety rain and a Thames boardwalk closed for maintenance, we trudged through the back streets of Hammersmith. Finding the restaurant is so much easier on a sunny day and the ability to just follow the river, but …

In a slightly industrial-looking building, with minimal signage (on the street side), the long, thin dining room is separated by floor to ceiling glass overlooking the garden and the chrome, mirrored bar. At the end of the room is the open kitchen, complete with blazing wood-fired oven. On a cold day, it makes an amazing cosy space. On a warm day (such as this visit) it’s worth trying to keep away from, lest you bake along with the bread.

Most diners this day were out in the noon-day sun. Be aware that while smoking is not permitted inside, all’s fair outdoors, including a very florid looking Englishman with the biggest cigar I’ve ever seen. It reeked.

The restaurant has been long established and has thrived, despite the passing in 2010 of co-founder Rose Gray. The garden setting is not just for the benefit of diners who want to smoke smelly things – a significant proportion of it is reserved to grow produce for some of the restaurant’s signature dishes.

This is a great place to come if you don’t like vegies. Most dishes have greens incorporated into them so skilfully that you don’t even think you’re consuming them. The restaurant grows its own herbs and spinach for the most part.

Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband happily settled in with a bottle of champagne and ordered two dishes from the antipasti menu – carne cruda di manzo and asparagi con fonduta. The raw beef was simply dressed with an incredibly fruity olive oil, mache greens and toasted pine nuts. It was a very plain, very tasty Italian steak tartare.

We then moved on to the asparagus – this was rich, rich, rich. About a dozen spears were topped with a creamy slick of parmesan fondue and a little grated parmesan over the top.

Moving on to main course, gluttonous husband ordered turbot, which he proceeded to skilfully dismember. The cut was called a tranche – turbot is a flat fish and this was almost like a cross section, with some very solid bones inside. The fish was soft, moist and easily flaked away. No danger of getting anything caught. It was served with baked thyme from the garden and capers with borlotti beans and leaves dressed in red wine vinegar. Tasty, substantial and no need at all for potato.

Greedy Girl asked for a starter size of the homemade ravioli, which was just as well as it was rather on the large side. Six large ravioli squares were stuffed with swiss chard, pancetta, thyme and mascarpone and served with a marjoram butter. Blissfully al dente, it was a triumph. Anyone who can get Greedy Girl to eat swiss chard and enjoy it is truly a masterful cook.

Dessert was one of the River Cafe’s stalwart dishes – Chocolate Nemesis. A cross between a cake and a mousse, a wedge is served with the lone adornment of a splodge of double cream. The chocolate is dark and slightly bitter. The texture is melting with a hint of crustiness.

It’s an incredibly satisfying way of whiling away some of the daylight hours – and equally enjoyable given the kitchen set up on a sunny or sour day. It’s not inexpensive (drinking good wine in England never is) but it’s not outrageously priced either. A word about the service – it’s not bad, but not great. One gets the sense that they don’t seem terribly fussed what you think and are happy for you to occupy space as long as you don’t really get in their way too much. Having been twice before and had very personable service both times, this was a disappointment.

And, not to forget, the word about British Rail. In a previous life, Greedy Girl travelled regularly between London and Cornwall on the train. Once she went to the buffet car and asked for a ham and cheese sandwich. Apparently they had ham sandwiches, and they had cheese sandwiches. They could ‘put them together’, but would need to charge for both. I demurred and went to walk away. To my turning shoulder the helpful staffer said: “I can do you one toasted”. So, Greedy Girl wondered, whether she could get a toasted ham and cheese sandwich without the toasting? She’s still wondering.

River Cafe

Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, Hammersmith, London W6
The River Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Square Meal

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