The River Café

Arrogant to the bone, The River Café is a restaurant that believes its own hype. Charging sky-high prices to show you a meagre time, it fails to back it up.

/ at /

They say misery loves company.  I could have done with some as I gawped in horror at my bill when I recently ate lunch at The River Café in Hammersmith, West London.

There is another Italian restaurant in Bermondsey called Zucca that models itself on The River Café, though you’d have to squint to see it.  But whereas Zucca delivers cooking of a similar standard at a reasonable price, eating at The River Café is like being asked to toss your wallet into the robbers’ bag during the diner scene in the movie Pulp Fiction, and all you want is to “strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger”.


Puntarelle alla Romana £15

Hailed as a ‘London institution’ this is the place where a BBC television crew once discovered a blithering Essex boy by the name Jamie Oliver in the late 90′s.  The kitchen has also breast-fed other notable chefs including Theo Randall and Sam and Sam Clark of Moro over its time.


Mazzancolle cruda £26

We get off on the wrong foot:  On a dreadful day when the weather won’t make up its mind, I am seated next to a table of coma-inducing yuppies.  There is a floor-heater that was bothering the one nearest the window.  The waitress has the dazzling idea to open the full-length windows so this one man could counteract the heater with blustering wind during a downpour of rain.

I’m caught directly in the draft, and in case it isn’t obvious, my tablecloth is flapping around like a possessed tentacle up into my chin.  I look around.  It’s happening to others too, but nobody has the heart to complain.  The waitresses turn a blind eye.  I get one’s attention and gesture to the window then to my tablecloth.  She disingenuously asks “Are you cold?” which makes my blood boil.  They eventually move me to a different table.


Agnoli con coniglio £17

The menu is crushing, with antipasti averaging £20, primi £17 and mains around £35.  Tag on dessert, a single glass of wine and service and you’ve already broken the £100 mark.  The food in no way justifies the cost:  A puntarelle alla Romana is fresh and crispy with a pleasant vinegary dressing, but any supposed inclusion of anchovy is imperceptible.  This bowl of salad: £15.  At a brutal £26 comes a starter of raw Scottish langoustines off the shell. They are seasoned simply with wild oregano and drenched in olive oil.  There is rabbit agnoli which tightly packs rich slow-cooked rabbit meat into ultra-thin sheets of fresh handmade pasta.  This is the restaurant at its best.


Controfiletto ai ferri £36

My main of ‘controfiletto ai ferri’ involves slices of beef sirloin from the butcher H. G. Walter, chargrilled to a perfect medium rare.  A smoky crust forms a ring around the outside of each slice.  With it is a salsa Etrusca providing a cool, herby foil.  Alongside is slow-cooked Florence fennel and rocket leaves.  It’s decent but for £36 I don’t want the word ‘decent’ to even enter my head.


Chocolate Nemesis £9

Desserts follow the same pattern.  ‘Chocolate Nemesis’ is an oversized slab of chocolate cake with a good deal of richness and a luscious texture that simultaneously manages to be completely uninspiring.  The ingredients at every phase of the meal were of high quality but nothing jumped off the plate.  Some dishes were good.  None of them were great.  All of them forgettable.  Far better can be had elsewhere for considerably less money, with much better service in better surroundings.

With the other so-called ‘London Institution’, Zafferano having just (deservedly) lost its star, I can see The River Café in its rear-view mirror.  They belong to the old guard of elitist restaurants that actively price-out the less well-off.  They don’t want to feed ‘you’, they want to feed their egos by feeding the rich.  They’ve been surpassed by a new breed of restaurant that is not only meeting a higher standard where cooking is concerned, but also more in-tune with the current economic climate – Medlar comes to mind.

The bill will leave your jaw hanging open.  This is a financial wrecking-ball of a restaurant that is anything but egalitarian, and it knows it.  Arrogant to the bone, The River Café is a restaurant that believes its own hype.  Charging sky-high prices to show you a meagre time, it fails to back it up.


food : 7.5/10
service : 4/10
ambience : 4/10
value : 2/10


The River Café River-Cafe on Urbanspoon
Thames Wharf,  Rainville Road, London W6 9HA
020 7386 4200


8 Responses to “The River Café”

  • I have to agree with you on those prices, there have been a lot of articles on River Cafe recently due to it’s 25th birthday and when reading them my only thought has been that I don’t care how well sourced the ingredents are, I cannot fathom paying that kind of money for such simple dishes whatever their quality. As all the press I read featured numerous name drops, I can only assume that as the likes of Bono and Tony Blair don’t share the same opinion but then they can afford it. I can’t say I’ll be rushing their to spend my dough especially when places like Zucca and Trullo exist for an authentic Italian fix.

  • This was a really interesting review to read. TRC is nearly always universally praised. From what you’re saying, if prices are going to be that high then the restaurant needs to be doing something more special than TRC to justify them. In my opinion Italian food is best when not trying to be ‘haute cuisiney’ . The peasant food is superior and much of TRC is simple. This style of cooking is therefore perhaps slightly at odds with such an expensive and glamourous place.

    I still love The River Cafe but I agree with a lot of what you’ve said.

  • Surviving simply on its name and that smart arsed cocky tosser that used to work there.Shame i wasn`t with you , we could have kicked off together. Food looks terrible and ridiculously priced for a “cafe”

  • The River Cafe has been consigned the “Irrelevant” file, largely thanks to the new breed of Italian restaurant it inspired. There is simply no need to spend that kind of money in return for that food, and everyone knows it. What’s more, there is absolutely nowhere for this place to go. Lower the prices – an admission of defeat. Change the style of cooking – a rejection of principles. The only option is to plough doggedly on, grimly catering for an ever more vulgar clientele. Is there a version of the Stuckist movement for restaurants?

  • Would you have been okay with the price if the food had been better? (Although 7.5/10 is a pretty good score in my book…)I’ve never really had any sympathy for people that complain about the prices in restaurants after dining at them – they have a website, with menus, with prices, and presumably the menus have prices when they dined there. Add on the standard 12.5% and there you go. Very predictable. Nothing to “gawp in horror” at. Also it is not compulsory to go antipasti, primi, main, dessert either, just because you are at an Italian restaurant. River Cafe is well known to be disappointing and overpriced, shame you weren’t informed beforehand!

    • Yes I would have been more accepting of the price if the food was better. Read my Kai Mayfair review, where the prices aren’t so different but I praise the place.

      It’s not compulsory to even walk into a restaurant, but that’s hardly conducive to doing a foodblog. For the purposes of giving a restaurant a somewhat thorough review, it’s more representative of the intended experience to order across the breadth of the menu. Isn’t that obvious without me having to explain it to you?

      If a restaurant is expensive, should I just not mention that because the prices are on the website? You’ve come on here with a pedantic mindset and missed the point entirely. Just because you are aware of the relative expense of dining here, it doesn’t mean everyone who comes here looking for a review on it is. Again, doesn’t that go without saying?

      Shame I wasn’t informed beforehand? So I should review the restaurant based on other people’s preconceptions? I think for myself – you should try it out, it’s liberating.

      You seem to need the most trivial of concepts explaining to you.

  • Agree totally. River Cafe is a near-literal embodiment of the Emperor’s New Clothes: you pay sky-high prices because they serve good ingredients without any garnish! What’s especially maddening is that the place is in the middle of nowhere therefore the rents must be rock-bottom.

Leave a Reply