What a transformation. The Riding House Café is located in what was once the heartland of London’s rag trade, yet in its previous life it was anything but fashionable. A middle-of-the-road chain pub - and even more mundane Asian chain canteen - were its predecessors, with neither being in any way destination venues.
The Riding House Café, however, is cut from a different cloth. From the same family as those Bermondsey Street institutions, Village East and the Garrison, the Riding House has brought a lovely injection of style and taste to what was in danger of becoming a foodie wasteland.
For starters, the place is seriously good looking. Parquet flooring, exposed brickwork, antique mismatched furniture, mixed style tiling, and distressed iron works gives the Riding House a Lower East Side feel. (Something that is enhanced by the cabinet displays of liquor, and lashings of burnt orange and vintage fittings.) However, the ambiance and formal black-and-whites worn by the waiting staff is reminiscent of a European brasserie, which is appropriate, as the Café in Riding House is a misnomer, something that becomes obvious when you are presented with your food.
We started with the smoked eel and spicy buttermilk fried chicken. The eel, which came with pickled carrots and horseradish, was served near raw, and was succulent and delicious. The chicken was hot, spicy, and messy, with the former being nicely offset by the buttermilk flavouring. For mains, the Northerner went for the roasted Cornish cod, with polenta chips and tomatoes, while I tried the whole lemon sole cooked in butter, with sides of broccoli and mash for good measure. The cod was nicely seasoned, moist and full of flavour. Polenta chips aren’t normally to my taste (why mess with the original?), but they were better then most versions I’ve tried. My lemon sole was divine, and triggered one of our frequent lemon vs. Dover dining debates. On that day’s form, the lemon was a clear-cut winner.
For desserts we tried the rhubarb tart, which was pie-like in size and volume, and a nice mixture of sweet and sharpness. I went for the strawberry parfait, which was dainty in presentation and full or summer flavours.
We washed in down with a bottle of 220 Montepulciano which was light yet flavoursome, and at only £21, great value for money.
It took me a long time to get to the Riding House Café, but it was worth the wait. London’s garment district now has an appropriate destination restaurant, for which I think it was fine to be fashionably late.