Another restaurant, another bar stool. This time Riding House Cafe, a sort of New York/European hybrid social thing that opens for breakfast and closes late. It has a similar concept to another new opening down the road, with small plates in a tapas style doubling as potential starters. The small plates read well, both delicate and appealing, it is difficult to choose.
An assortment of breads was actually a couple of breads, a twin or a few, not an assortment. Thick wodges slightly dried out under lamps were saved by the anchovy enriched artichoke paste that accompanied them. It is unusual to have to pay for bread in London these days, so when you do you expect something a little different, Riding House adopted the little more approach, serving the larger part of a loaf.
Sticking to the small plate options I took a slice across the £3, £4, and £5 categories. Goats curd, fig, honey was served in a dinky little bowl and garnished with rocket, the goats curd just strong enough to balance the sweetness of the honey drizzled fig. A light and refreshing plate only slightly let down by a rogue salt crystal, the sole escapee from a chefs destructive fingers. A plate of three dense cubes of roasted pork belly, cumin salt was presented without flourish and the meat was OK – pork belly slowly roasted isn’t an exact science. Two pieces of skin were light and snappable, one was folded with a bite, reincarnating itself as a porcine chewit. The skinny chew was not altogether unpleasant, salty pork fat rarely is, but it wasn’t right and it brought this rather one dimensional offering down a pig or two.Moorish lamb cutlets, smoked aubergine were served boned and resting on a smear of smoked aubergine paste mottled with flecks of pink lamb juice. The meat was grilled to a melting medium rare, see the perfectly soft pink profile above. The aubergine, as bitter as the kiss of a smokers glossed lips, added far more than an aubergine normally would, elevating this dish to somewhere near romantic.
The number of staff buzzing around the restaurant was sometimes overwhelming, two waitresses held a tray of food while a third served the table. Perfectly normal in a fine dining place maybe, this lot were chowing down burgers. The dominant central bar surrounds busy chefs plating cold plates and salads, this is where I sat on a rotating leather chair. A trio of gents in dark jeans and snug gray blazers wandered about trying to look important while waiters rushed behind my chair fetching dishes from the open kitchen. Such was their carelessness early on that my chair, in this carnival atmosphere, could have been a teapot, spun by a gypsy in search of a spew.
The personal service I received was charming and genuine, the young man who served me dealt admirably with a ridiculous scattering of tables in all areas of the large restaurant. The surplus holes in his face would have looked considerably better adorned with the metal that usually fills them, if their absence is for ‘health and safety’ then it definitely has gone mad.
I finished with a rhubarb and raspberry fool, rhubarb topped with meringue and cream, a shortbread biscuit leaning to one side like a polite flat cap. Yorkshire mess, not a fool. The fruit had a brave crunch that is so often lost when this mighty stalk is stewed to a pulp, a naughty summer pud.
Those chaps in jackets have an arrogant swagger. Understandably so, The Riding House Cafe is riding high.
Distance from Croydon: Where is Croydon? I seem to have forgotten.
Four dishes, bread, a glass of wine and service scaled the dizzy heights of £14 (50% discount on food for soft opening). It would be £2o come May. Nothing short of miraculous considering both the location and the food on offer.