The Riding House Cafe

You can git laayyd in this city eevery naahhht of the week bru” said the fat South African wearing a canary yellow shirt.

That, unfortunately, is not my experience of London. So either he was talking kak, or I need to put on about 5 stone and start buying my clothes from charity shops.

Regardless, the statement, and indeed the general conversation coming from his table, was quite amusing and reminded me that people watching and eaves dropping are two of the many reasons I enjoy eating out. Did any of the South African’s companions like him? How did the odd looking group on the next table know each other? Were the couple on the table next to ours really just friends and betrothed to others? [our conclusion to that last one was no and, sadly, yes]

The venue for this particular show was the Riding House Cafe, a new brasserie style restaurant in Fitzrovia. It’s rather big inside, but accommodates the voyeur well with comfy seats offering good viewing angles and deceptively helpful acoustics …

In all seriousness, the internal design is good, particularly given the two rooms that it’s broken into are effectively 1 large rectangle completely devoid of any original internal architectural interest. There’s more than a hint of Dean Street Townhouse in the reddish booths and couches of the room we were sat in, whilst the larger room that you first enter features an open kitchen pass, a mammoth bar, a long distressed wooden dining table and plenty of smaller seating spaces. They’ve ploughed money in to every area (I’ve never seen a custom built distressed metal surround for a Dyson air blade before) and I think it’s as successful as it could be. Though different in style, there’s definitely something in the design that reminds me of its sister eateries, the Garrison and Village East in Bermondsey.

But of course as well as design and ambiance, when eating out you also want good service and, most importantly, enjoyable food.

The Riding House Cafe menu features (the now ubiquitous) small sharing plates which cover either starters or your whole meal, as well as smart gastro pub fare for main courses. All of which were generally ok, but not much more.

A couple of the small plates we had were distinctly under seasoned and our overall feeling was that if we hadn’t been taking advantage of the 50% off food in April offer, then we’d be a bit disappointed. Steak tartare was the biggest culprit – no real flavour here at all, even from the capers. Piperade was similar – there was definitely garlic, but the strips of peppers were surprisingly bland otherwise; I’m not sure they had been salted at all. The thin anchovies served on top lacked any anchovy taste and were consequently inconsequential. Veal meatballs on lentils, squid and chorizo in a tomato sauce, and goats curd with honey and figs were much better. Not ground breaking though.

The mains were more successful. Indeed my guinea fowl was very nearly very good. A moist, meaty and golden skinned breast was served with nicely cooked sliced green beans and a tomato sauce. It looked the part, served sliced to show off a stuffing of spinach and black pudding. The problem was the black pudding was virtually flavourless. I was hoping for a punch of flavour, but I got a limp-wristed hand shake.

My friend’s trout with a crab and leek salad was similar. The fish was nicely cooked and a delicate peachy-pink. However the value add here should’ve been the crab salad, yet this component was lost and flavourless. Shame.

We only tried one dessert – a hot fudge and honeycomb Sunday – which was ok but nothing particularly special. There were a few other enticing options (I wasn’t allowed the spiced ginger bread with grilled figs and caramel ice cream (sob)) and crafty a glance towards the overly amorous ‘friends’ on the table next door suggested that the cheeses were served in an interesting way.

Basically I thought the Riding House Cafe was fine. That’s kind of damning with faint praise isn’t it? I liked the decor and though the service was tentative, I feel it will get better as the place beds in. However, and significantly, the food probably wasn’t much more than incidental to our own conversation / the observance of others. Which can be ok, depending on your expectations and requirements of a place. That evening, though, I wanted food to edge theatre. Both main courses featured twists that ought to have lifted the dishes beyond ordinary. Unfortunately, they didn’t have that effect. It’s not to say that they weren’t decent. But an excellent and thoroughly modern main course of slow cooked pigs cheeks and pork belly with minted peas that I had for lunch at 28/50 (Fetter Lane) the next day, reminded me what quality you can get for basically the same price elsewhere.

So though the Riding House Cafe is not at all bad, it is not strong enough to be a destination on its own. Tucked away on a relatively quiet street in a slightly dead zone between Soho and Mayfair, I bet it’ll do alright for weekday lunches but it’ll have to work hard to get the evening and weekend crowd to sustain it. I won’t be rushing back, but that’s largely because this is not my area. If, on the other hand, it’s convenient to you and you fancy some people watching, it’s worth popping in. You might even get lucky and meet a large South African with a point to prove.

Riding House Cafe in 3 words

More salt please.

The Bill

Small plates are £3 – £5.  Mains are £11 – £15.  Desserts about £6.  Wine is available in glasses, carafes and bottles and free tap water is brought as standard.

You’ve got a few more days to benefit from the 50% off food offer. – 43-51 Great Titchfield Street, W1W 7PQ – 020 7927 0840

[If you like this post, and the blog more generally, maybe you’d consider voting for me in the Observer Food Monthly awards?  There are some prizes in it for you too.  Just a thought.]