Offering a flexible, affordable and pretty darn tasty menu, the Riding House Café is a very welcome addition to the West End. Just keep sensitive souls away from the light fittings…
Straddling the corner of Riding House Street and Great Titchfield Street, it’s certainly got a prime spot and is a huge improvement on what was there: Chutney & Lager was never really likely to catch on. Thankfully the guys behind Village East and The Garrison have decked this place out impressively, with a shabby-chic aesthetic that’s more chic than shabby.
It’s divided into two areas, with one more suited to dining and another that’s a little bit more relaxed, with bar stools, a long communal trestle-esque table, a little bit of concrete and swooping lampshades combining to give it a touch of New York cool. The dining room is smaller, but still feels spacious, with big, orange leather sofa seating pushed up against wood panelled walls that offer the tiniest hint of the hunting club. But just to ram it home, there are some taxidermied squirrels scurrying up the wall to offer the lights some support, and provoke the odd squeal from delicate little flowers.
It’s all very nice and informal, even if the friendly, knowledgeable and smiley staff are kitted out in the kind of natty black and white getups you see when fine dining. It’s a busy little place too, with a clientele made up of local workers and residents, intrigued foodies and probably a fair few West End shoppers taking a well-earned or accidental wander away from the hordes on Oxford Street. There’s plenty of appreciative chatter that complements the perfectly pitched music, and the lights are dimmed to make it feel a touch more romantic later on.
Following something of a (welcome) trend, the menu is flexible, with a whole host of ‘smaller plates’ (£3-£5) enabling you to go down the tapas route, and plenty of hearty mains if you want to keep things traditional.
And those mains certainly are appetising – think guinea fowl breast with black pudding and Romesco sauce (£14.60), seared sea trout with crab and leek salad and confit lemon vinaigrette (£14.20), chorizo hash browns with mushroom and poached egg (£10.50), and a rack of pork with lentils, smoked sausage and horseradish (£14.20). The small plates are even more so though, and when they average out at £4, the suggested eight-between-two people means they’re pretty good value too.
The goat’s curd with figs and honey (£3) is small, yes, but beautifully balanced and features some surprisingly light and fluffy curd. The cured sea trout (£4) is equally impressive, with sliced jalapenos offering a bit of piquancy before crème fraiche calms things down a bit. Baby squid with chorizo (£4) is always a good combination, and here it benefits from good ingredients as well as a pinch or two of paprika, some chilli and some olives. The slow roasted pork belly (£4) comes as three little squares of ever so slightly overdone meat, which is a shame as the cumin salt rubbed into the fat really gives it an extra bit of depth.
Some excellent Moorish lamb cutlets (£5) flirt with overseasoning but don’t put out, and the soft and tender meat works well with its bed of pureed smoked aubergine. Three salt cod fritters (£5) are light and perfectly fried, even if the red pepper aioli isn’t particularly inspiring – the penchant for heat evident on the rest of the menu should probably be added here too. The sea bass ceviche (£5) is certainly a highlight – it’s as light as a feather, incredibly fresh and dressed astutely with lime and flickers of chilli.
Desserts are again, well-priced, with a justifiably ostentatious looking rhubarb and raspberry fool coming in a very reasonable £4. Served in a tall knickerbocker glory glass, with chewy meringue and some excellent shortbread threatening to topple it, it’s a very decent dessert indeed. It is, though, put in the shade by a slab of spiced gingerbread (£5.50) that’s huge and heavy, but so very good. It’s heavily infused with ginger and served with a few grilled figs, caramel ice cream and a thick and sticky caramel sauce. It’s delicious, if sickeningly easy to finish.
Loads of cocktails ensure that those seats at the bar will be filled, and with Champagne cocktails coming in at £9, and the rest between £7 and £8, there’s more evidence of that accessible pricing. Guinness, Stella and Becks are on tap (£3.80-£4.20) but if you want something a little more exotic then the bottled options are a good bet, with Sierra Nevada (£4.80), Purity Premium Gold Ale (£5) and Pure UBU Amber Ale (£5) being worth a try.
The wine list is pleasingly extensive, with a leaning towards the old world, and plenty are available by the glass and carafe in another nice nod towards flexibility. On a list that goes steadily from £16.50 bottles of Vin de Pays up to Reserves at £99, there’s plenty of choice, but if you want a steal then the white rioja from Decenio is a very good little crisp and fruity number at just £23.
The Last Word
A great little place that should do well, the Riding House Café’s food, prices and flexibility make it somewhere that feels effortlessly good. And it’s a grey squirrel anyway, you’re allowed to kill those.