This hearty and authentic Italian restaurant in the Thames Wharf has been a local favourite since 1987. It became a British favourite after winning one Michelin star in 1998, even Jamie Oliver got his big break from working here. Famed for producing simple yet delicious food that’d instantly transport you back to Italy, their incredible pasta is not to be missed. Unfortunately, the expensive price tag is not something we can afford every day (£15 for antipasti and £30 for secondi).
We arrived at 2pm hoping for a relaxing Sunday lunch but the restaurant was so packed we had to wait 20 minutes at the bar (used it to study the one pager menu). Sunday lunch is their busiest service, so do avoid it if you can. Walking past the open plan kitchen with chefs powering ahead, I scanned the busy yet trendy restaurant. Similar to a restaurant you’d find in those modern art galleries but without this beautiful river view, which must be amazing in the summer. Apart from the countless number of heads in this jam packed restaurant, an instant spotter was the gigantic wood fire oven. A sudden pizza craving came up just by looking at it but they actually use it mainly for cooking fish.
In terms of ordering, the dishes are Italian sized which means you’d get twice more than other restaurants in London so don’t order one from each section unless you want to truly test your stomach limit. The menu also changes twice a day to ensure only those seasonal and fresh are served (apart from their classic desserts).
Mozzarella di Bufala
Every single element on this dish was faultless and beyond tasty. Generously splashed with extra virgin olive oil, particularly on that surprisingly light mozzarella. It’s rare to eat chickpea mash and definitely not with mozzarella, normally we’d dip straight into hummus. The spinach, chickpea mash and artichoke mix created a powerful earthy flavour with great depth, perfect with the clean and refreshing mozzarella.
Zuppa - chestnut & celeriac soup
I loved how it wasn’t blitzed too fine for an added crunchy celeriac and chestnut texture. It certainly enriched the soup with extra powerful yet subtle flavours. Overall a hearty soup that I’d love to have everyday, especially during these cold winter months.
Tagliarini con pomodoro, zenzero, maggiorana & ricotta salata
We were told that River Cafe hosts some of the best pasta you can find in London, definitely true! These pasta were bouncy, firm, not sticky to the extent it was somewhat slippery. Perfectly seasoned and packed with subtle tomato flavours that wasn’t too acidic. Overall an impeccable pasta that’s a must have!
Rombo al forno - turbot tranche wood roasted
Perhaps the largest piece of turbot I’ve had in any restaurant, which we managed to cut into two large pieces by following the bone. It was tender and well seasoned with lots of oil, but the star of the dish was the potatoes with a bombing rosemary flavour. It was even better when combined with the light turbot to enrich it with these earthy rosemary flavours.
I actually regretted ordering this rich dessert. Although it was impressively chocolatey like just melted extra dark chocolate turned into a moist mousse, it was just too rich to finish our lunch.
Verdict - 5/5
Food (simple yet amazing) - River Cafe executes simple and seasonal Italian food exceptionally well. No complex processing or beautiful decoration, simply great dishes you’d find from Italy. Every dish wowed us for a immediate return, particularly the fresh pasta.
Service (busy) - Sunday lunch is their busiest service so we had to wait 20 minutes at the bar for a table (we did book). Because it was so busy, there was about 15min wait between each course.
Cost (expensive) - these simple yet hearty Italian dishes came with an unbelievably expensive price tag. We spent £131 including two glasses of wine, definitely not an every day restaurant for these every day dishes. Go to Zucca if you want something cheaper with the same quality.