Riding House Rivals Wolseley in Brasserie Fight: London Dining

Riding House Cafe
The interior of the Riding House Cafe in London. Diners can choose from small plates or order a la carte. Source: Bacchus Public Relations via Bloomberg

When a restaurant offers all-day dining, you might think of bacon & egg breakfast, afternoon tea or a late-night drink, as well as lunch and dinner.

To the restaurateur, it means three main things: $$$. Say hello to Riding House Cafe, the latest venue from Adam White and Clive Watson, co-founders of the Garrison and Village East, in Bermondsey. They call it an all-day brasserie.

Property prices are high, so if anyone can squeeze multiple sales opportunities out of one kitchen, a single dining room, and an individual concept, he can have his cake and eat it too. Just look at the Wolseley. That’s what restaurateurs do.

That Continental-style cafe is open from 7 a.m. to midnight and is packed day and night. It isn’t a new hot spot whose popularity might fade. The Wolseley opened in November 2003, and if I wanted breakfast there next week, I’d be calling reservations now or else trying to work out who could help me to get a table.

If the Wolseley is the officers’ mess for London’s chattering classes, Riding House Cafe is the staff canteen. It’s less grand, with waiters who will chat and joke with you.

The meal begins with small plates for sharing, a popular idea at the moment and one of which I’m a fan because choosing from a good menu can be difficult and disappointing.

Smoked Aubergine

The starters are the most interesting dishes at Riding House Cafe and are divided into three groups, at 3 pounds ($4.75), 4 pounds and 5 pounds. The options include beet carpaccio, sheep’s ricotta with merlot vinaigrette or goat’s curd, figs, honey at 3 pounds; cured sea trout, jalapeno, creme fraiche or artichoke dip, crostini at 4 pounds; and sea bass ceviche, lime chili or Moorish lamb cutlets, smoked aubergine at 5 pounds.

It’s possible to construct a meal this way, as I did earlier this month at the excellent Modern Pantry, where a friend and I shared six starters instead of ordering a main.

That wouldn’t be a bad idea at Riding House Cafe, where the mains are less adventurous than the starters and come in portions that might knock you out for the afternoon. The burger is served in a square bun the size of your fist. The (very good) fish and chips are more generous than you might get in Skegness out of season. Invitations to order side dishes should be ignored.

The desserts are as comforting as a warm duvet on a cold night, though heavier. Hot fudge sundae comes with macaroons, honeycomb (think Crunchie bar); spiced gingerbread comes with grilled figs and caramel ice cream, at 5.50 pounds.

Crowd Control

I enjoy comfort and familiarity as much as the next overeater, so I have no complaints about the restaurant, even if there are times when the sheer number of customers might affect the quality of some of the cooking. The venue seats 120 diners: 50 in the dining room and others along the bar and in an adjacent lounge. The place is doing well and gets busy.

The wine list starts at 16.50 pounds a bottle, and the Albarino, Castrocelta, Rias Baixas 2010, is great with the food if you don’t mind spending 32 pounds or 8 pounds a glass.

The owners have a strong track record. Village East is a similarly friendly and unfussy restaurant, while the Garrison was named best pub and bar this year in industry awards from Caterer & Hotelkeeper. (For those of you with long memories, it’s on the site of the former Honest Cabbage.)

While the Fitzrovia area of London particularly needs more restaurants with the quality of Riding House Cafe, it’s an unpretentious venue that would be welcome anywhere. Don’t be surprised if one day there is a Riding House Cafe near you.

Riding House Cafe is at 43-51 Great Titchfield Street, London, W1W 7PQ. Information: +44-20-7927-0840; http://ridinghousecafe.co.uk/.

The Bloomberg Questions

Cost? About 30 pounds for three courses.

Sound level? Usually below 75 decibels.

Inside tip? The room on the left as you enter is clubby.

Special feature? All-day dining.

Will I be back? Yes.

Date place? Yes, for a fun evening.

Rating? **½.

What the Stars Mean:
****         Incomparable food, service, ambience
***          First-class of its kind.
**           Good, reliable.
*            Fair.
(No stars)   Poor.

Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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