Good friends and staunch foodies Ollie Jones and Gus Haughton have teamed up with Foundry Fox as a our monthly restaurant and bar reviewers. On their first jaunt, they head back to one of their favourite haunts and the place where ‘Ollie and Gus’ started, the River Café. Both have spent their adult lives in the service industry, Gus currently works for Soho House and Ollie works for the restaurant group JKS Restaurants.
OLLIE. We have a real love for the River Café because this is where Gus and I first met each other. We were both working as bar boys and we weren’t that fussed about food, which all changed very soon after starting to work at the Café.
The River Café is an institution, and it’s been going strong since it opened in 1987. My family always visit when they come to London and we all think it’s our favourite restaurant in the world. The menu is classic and simple, but clever and utterly delicious all at once.
GUS. Everyone who works at The River Café has an infectious passion for ingredients and food and the love shines through the dishes.
The River Café is the perfect lunchtime spot, in the summer the outside area is a real hotbed. It’s a destination venue, it’s special and the acclaimed menu pulls in the crowds to the Hammersmith address. Whether you’re a ‘name’ or you’re celebrating a special birthday or anniversary, it’s a great mix of people who love good food.
There’s a real buzz to the place. There’s no music at the River Café just the acoustics of the kitchen and people talking and enjoying themselves.
GUS. We take choosing our food very seriously. We made sure we had the best combination of dishes on the menu – and the perfect wine to match.
An ice cold beer in a chilled glass as a starter drink at the The River Café is a must and works perfectly a Taleggio cheese pizzette topped with artichokes, breadcrumbs and thyme is amazing. Breadcrumbs on a pizza sounds strange, but trust me, it works. We ordered a bottle of Sicilian white to start.
OLLIE. We started our meal with the Puntarelle salad. This famous Roman salad is made up of chopped hearts of chicory dressed in a red wine vinegar, Oritz anchovy and dried chilli. The balance between the red wine vinegar and the saltiness of the anchovies is so simple but so clever. It’s so fresh.
GUS. With the salad we also had the Calamari ai ferri, which has pretty much been on the menu since the restaurant first opened, it’s a classic – chargrilled squid with chopped red chilli and rocket.
It’s perhaps the most famous dish on the menu and it’s on the menu all the time. The hum of the chilli and the bitterness of the rocket makes this dish a personal favourite for us.
The rocket is Turkish rocket, its full of flavour. When Rose (Rose Gray, founder of The River Café along with Ruth Rogers, Rose sadly passed away in 2010) was in Turkey she tasted this rocket and loved it so much she took back a small plant which she planted in the Café’s gardens and it is still there today.
OLLIE. There’s also a story – where Rose bought a seat on a plane for a pumpkin!
GUS. For our second course we had the handmade ravioli with ricotta and porcini, which can only be described as little parcels of happiness. Creamy fresh ricotta, mixed with rich porcini is the perfect combination. It’s then topped with Marjoram and then more Parmesan.
We also had the Mezzi Paccheri (pasta) with pork ragu. The pork is slow cooked with sage, parmesan and Marsala wine which creates such a sweet ragu. It gets caught in the shells, it’s such a hearty and comforting dish.
OLLIE. For the main course, we ordered a bottle of Barola. I had the Dover Sole beautifully presented, it’s a typical Venetian dish, it’s simple – capers, rosemary and good olive oil.
GUS. The king of white fish – the Turbot was poached making it delicate and moist. It carries the rosina beans and is served on a base of salsa verde. We would have liked more capers and anchovies – we have to give one criticism I suppose?!
OLLIE. We always finish on a Chocolate Nemesis, The River Cafés most famous dessert. It’s a flourless chocolate cake cooked in a water-bath.
GUS. It was in the first ever River Café ‘blue’ cookbook and is still on the menu now. The 30-year anniversary cookbook has just been released.
OLLIE. We always have a scoop of burnt caramel ice cream. The more burnt the better.
GUS. It’s so intense.
OLLIE. The Hazelnut ice cream has overtaken it in the ice cream stakes for me.
GUS. We also had the Lemon Tart, another legendary dish. Amalfi lemons and a brullé filling, served with crème fraîche. You want the perfect ratio of half tart and half crème fraîche on every spoonful.
About Ollie and Gus…
Barrafinna, Panama, Braun, Lyle’s, Hoppers, Kiln on Brewer st. Yuatcha, Dinnerama, Breddos, Rochelle Canteen.
Best places to drink:
Bar Termini, Old Compton St, The Dukes Hotels Mayfair, The Royal Oak – Colombia Rd.
Your ultimate dinner party dish?
OLLIE. Spaghetti Bolognese with a nice red wine.
GUS. A roast chicken with chorizo and lemon, thyme, potatoes, white wine – go to.
The most memorable dish from you travels?
OLLIE. The foie gras stuffed chicken at Nomad, New York.
GUS. Or all of the family-run restaurants you stumble upon, along the coast of Southern Spain.
Best unexpected place for great food in London?
The Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Road.