Walking through the unassuming doors and straight into the reservation-free zone had me feeling as though I’d taken a trip to New York City’s LES via Scandinavia with wooden floors, blue leather bar stools setting off the blue water glasses and a distressed communal table taking centre-stage in the bar area. Very laid-back. Once seated in the slightly more formal yet unique dining room, I took to catching up with Larry as we waited for Jonesy, who was trying to avoid the perils of getting to us without stepping foot on Oxford Street. The struggles we face…
The designers’ flirtation with traditional British interiors including vintage-style lamps paired with some rather surprising fixtures – grey squirrels and orange banquettes – intrigued me. Surely the vegetarians would be up in arms about these “cute” pests littering the walls? Maybe, but the fashionable will not. The dining areas have an effortlessly polished vibe; something one would see on the pages of Vogue Living with Hamish Bowles cavorting around in the background in some eclectic ensemble.
Apparently we have a lot to thank Spain for as small dishes and tapas-style ordering becomes the norm and The Riding House Café follows this trend to perfection, and with remarkably affordable dishes ranging from £3 to £5. From veal and pork sausages served with herby lentils to tender chunks of Moorish lamb with smoked aubergine purée – that’s a lot of meat for a woman who used to be one of those I-don’t-eat-anything-with-a-face types.
If you fancy slightly more animal-friendly starters, the beetroot carpaccio with ricotta is a must as the sweet vegetable paired with the creamy cheese is a delight. As our conversation turned to rodents, yes those squirrels really are a talking point, we dived into a plate of salty anchovies complemented with a Mediterranean pipérade. I was rather sceptical about the salt cod fritters (served with red pepper aioli) because if I have another potato croquette masquerading as a fish fritter, there will be problems. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. Crisis averted.
Having seen the dessert menu, I decided to keep it light and go with seared sea trout for my main course, which came served with a light crab and leek salad. Often these salads are overwhelmed with herbs or under-seasoned, but the lemon vinaigrette worked well. Little could be done to keep Jonesy from having his Titchfield Burger, which with a slice of fois gras, added a dose of France. Larry was not to be outdone and went with the mammoth-sized smoked cheddar burger complete with tomato chutney. Both were served with thin frites. Word on the street, and by “the street” I mean at our table, was that the air-light, seeded focaccia bap stole the show.
The spiced gingerbread served with grilled figs and caramel ice-cream is the type of dessert that makes you pity diabetics worldwide. Life without this dessert is simply not the type of life I fancy living. Gingerbread always reminds me of my childhood but this time round, as I tasted each spoonful, my mind was fuzzy, reminiscent of falling in love. A tad dramatic you say; I dare you to try it and tell me something different. The exquisitely delicate balance of the spices, the gentle touch of the ginger, the sweetness of the figs with the creaminess of the ice-cream coming together, was nothing short of a masterpiece.
I should probably keep this to myself but my next trip to London revolves solely around stopping at The Riding House Café for dessert, so if you see a brunette sitting alone at the bar with several plates of spiced gingerbread, don’t be shy, come and say bonjour!
The Riding House Café, 43-51 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 7PQ. Tel: +44 (0) 20 7927 0840. Website.