Missing a Sugar Plum Fairy…
20th December 2011
Having been won over by my first visit to Riding House Cafe, back in July 2011, I was really looking forward to my work’s Xmas dinner there. I’ll hold my hand up here, this was a treat of ‘the Boss’, but just for your info, this Xmas Feast was £38 per head + drinks. Lots of fun and frivolity was had, with the Company and on the ‘Secret Santa’ front. The restaurant was decked out in lots of festive touches, tastefully done and I didn’t expect anything less.
On arrival, (we were a little late and two diners down, guiltily we had only notified them of one of the cancellations). Riding House like other busy Brasseries have a two-hour table turnaround, we were on the later 9pm slot. Our table had not been laid and so we waited at the buzzing bar. It was pretty much a full-house, which is expected for a slick central London operation such as the Cafe, the week before Christmas.
I did expect there to be some Christmas frivolities to be on the table, crackers, hats, something to take home. Afterall this was a Christmas booking, perhaps we should have brought our own? as this may have been too classy a joint to provide such things… Anyhow, our Team bought fun and merriment to the table, perhaps aided by the assistance of wine. Dining in Riding House style, we had sharing platters laiden with beautifully presented food. I’m sure the table groaned, from the spread it was carrying and possibly our bad jokes!
Beetroot carpaccio, sheeps ricotta & basil cress
One of the stand out stars from my last visit, I was exceptionally happy to re-visit the taste combination. Creamy rich ricotta, such a bold colour contrast against the slivers of beetroot carpaccio. With the textural addition of pumpkin seeds and basil cress, this dish truly sings.
Rare venison, Salsa cruda & celeriac salad
The vensison held it’s own against the boldly dresses salad. I found the dressing quite acrid, perhaps a little too much balsamic? The presentation was dainty and the reds of the meat and tomatoes quite festive.
Smoked mackerel with baby beetroot salad and horseradish
I hasten to add, I completely neglected this dish. Horseradish is not my favourite, but as a classic combination, I’m sure the others enjoyed it.
Slow roasted pork shoulder
Great crackling, the pork was tender and falling easily enough to serve. There were some juices on the pork platter, but I always like a good gravy. There was an apple chutney, which went half way to add moisture and flavour, but a gravy would have been lovely with the mash and veg.
Hake fillet with Salsa verde
Beautifully filleted and prepared, the fish flaked so easily with a fork. The Salsa verde zingy and a fresh contrast as a mains dish against the fatty and rich pork.
Macaroni & Gorgonzola gratin
This was a lovely combination. Usually I’m not a fan of Gorgonzola (probably beacuse in it’s uncooked state it has the scent of smelly socks). This gratin with oodles of creamy sauce and a crunchy crust enticed me into a second portion.
Roasted Chantenay carrots & parsnips
Glistening with butter, being roasted, it really brought out the sweetness of the veg. We had a meagre portion of parnips though, which is shame, as it’s my favourite.
These still had a bite, gladly not limp or bland thanks to the chilli and garlic it was stir-fried with.
Heavenly and smooth. I’m sure copious amounts of butter and cream were the culprits, probably in equal measure to poatoes, totally sinful.
Spiced Gingerbread with ice-cream, butterscotch sauce and poached pears
This was dry, not even the vanilla ice-cream drizzled in butterscotch with pears poached in ginger syrup could resuscitate it. If only there had been a Sugar Plum Fairy in the house, (a girl after my own dolce-heart), she could have sprinkled some fairy dust and revived some of the dishes.
This was probably the best of the desserts, which doesn’t say much as I’d never ordinarily pick it. I really do see it as a Christmas tea-time treat, not a serious dessert. I’d be as bold as to say, it’s a glorified swiss roll… To it’s merit Riding House’s version had a silky chocolate ganache with a kirsch laced filling.
This was pretty woeful, not even the Grand Marnier could save this. Pre-pared some time earlier, all the layers had set quite stiffly. There was no oozing custard or sponge fingers. The mandarin layer was dreadful, the fruit were sour as limes, soa fright with every bursting biteful. Call me a traditionalist but I like my layers, sherried fruit, I am however happy to lose the 100’s & 1000’s (too garish for me). This version was garnished with blackberries and chocolate sprinkles, more tasteful in decoration, just a shame on the actual ‘taste’.
Oh dear, to end the night, I decided upon a clensing pot of Early Grey. It simply wasn’t to be. Yes their delightful crockery and sweet milk bottle put a smile on my face, but was swiftly wiped off by the stewed tea presented to me. My neighbouring Director, had the same with her Green tea, nothing worse than a strong, over-stewed cuppa. On that note, I had had enough, but a waiter decided to literally topple a whole pot of cream down my colleagues back and coat. The waiter mumbled an apology, attempted to wipe some of the cream and then scampered off into the kitchen. My Director wasn’t having any of this and called a Manager over. The Manager then spent another five minutes trying to clean the now cream-caked cardigan and jacket, the cream puddle remained on the chair and floor. We left paying our bill and with the Manager offering to reimburse for cleaning of the items. Had we not complained, this would not have been offered… this was wrong, perhaps the waiter was sheepish, but he should have recognised his mistake and offered good customer service.
Alas, I fear that they may have suffered from the commonal problem of mass-catering for group bookings. In my opinion, standards slipped, dishes may have been pre-prepared and perhaps there is complacency in thinking that standards can be comprised as Xmas diners may be ‘under the influence’? I’m being a ‘Scrooge’, I usually forgive most things, but when my desserts are lack-lustre and trifled with (excuse the pun), I’m always disappointed. Ba Humbug, I’ll need to forgive Riding House because in my heart I know what they’re capable of, so I’ll blank out this occassion and keep my fingers crossed for my next visit in 2012.
What was my ‘Secret Santa’ gift you ask?… I was a ‘good’ girl and I happily recieved a Liberty printed notepad and a Clarins hand cream.Riding House Cafe, 43-51 Great Titchfield St, London, W1W 7PQ Website: http://www.ridinghousecafe.co.uk/