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REVIEW: The Riding House, 41-53 Great Titchfield Street

2nd January 2012

The main reason for choosing this restaurant was that it was open on 1st January.  The secondary reason was that it was within walking distance of the Palladium at which we'd just seen The Wizard of Oz.  The highlights of this were the jaw-droppingly camp Cossack dance and Toto suddenly appearing swiftly on his mark by being propelled by a barely seen hand.  Either that or Cairn Terriers can moonwalk forwards.

The Riding House has quite a few nice touches in appearance.  Namely, the long thin table seating 30 with tip-up fixed seats like an old cinema and the white tiled and dark wood panelled interior with light sage green walls.  The squat blue water glasses with the tin white water jugs with navy edging were endearing. It feels modern and the interior works well, upstairs at least.  Downstairs in the bathrooms were some nice touches and some fails.  The victorian high cistern toilet was a nice touch, as was the proper toilet roll.  The shallow Belfast sink was quite nice even though some residue of the last occupant was still in the sink.  The tap was a wall-mounted red stop-cock and the actual faucet was made of copper.  The sage hand soap and hand lotion were delightful and left me regularly sniffing my hands during dinner.  All together a lovely set of touches, except one.   They had tried to steampunk a Dyson hand drier by putting it in a decayed copper housing.  The drier worked as I'd expect it but the subterfuge just didn't.  As my mother says - If it's worth doing, do it properly. And the less said about the fluorescent pink glass doors, the better.

The bar was well stocked to the point that I felt courageous enough to try Frangellico over ice, the bottle of which I had actually mistaken for Amarulah from a distance.  It's possible I asked for Amarillo (but not the way to it).  The Frangelico was a lovely - like a well behaved Amaretto biscuit with none of that Amaretti sharp insolence. 

As for the meal; I had the haddock cream soup with caviar as a starter.  The bowl was extremely large and the chunks of fish similarly sized, making you wish for a knife and fork rather than a spoon.  The spoon of caviar floating in the top tasted like caviar but - when it's been deposited into soup like a pigeon targeting a Trafalgar Square tourist - tastebuds, like the tourists, are not given much room for manoeuvre.  Had it been left out it would have been better.  Had the fish chunks been smaller, the scarce scattering of herbs less so and the bowl not been the size of a foot-bath, it would have been absolutely lovely.  But I liked it.  It was filling, creamy and fishy.  On a cold day I would happily have reached for it, albeit with a hungry friend, and more cutlery.

On the menu they advertised a number of 'small plates' which was a nice idea allowing the trying of much without having an entire salver to work through.  I had the crumbed lamb breast with gribiche.  The gribiche, which I had never come across before was lovely, although sparingly used and only as an adherent to fix the three parcels of lamb to the plate.  That was a pity because it was the nicest part of that dish.  The actual crumbed lamb was a good idea but the meat was stringy and the taste reminded me of Chinese belly pork. As a whole it was ok but I would class it as more something you'd serve as a canapé than ask for a diner's full attention, and criticism.

My partner had rack of pork, lentils and smoked sausage.  He declared the pork to be of a size that the pig definitely felt its departure.  The soaked sausage was slightly spicy.   He avoided the horseradish, as is his habit but declared all to be rather nice.

Never one to ignore the desert menu we sallied forth into pudding.  The cinnamon doughnuts with chocolate sauce were charming but brief.  Three miniature ball shaped doughnuts were about the size of grapes and when cut spurted a thin yellow custard in a most unfortunate manner.  They were accompanied by a small glass of chocolate sauce which was dairy milk in colour but satisfyingly and surprisingly dark chocolate in taste.  And to top it off in both senses was a layer of properly whipped double cream.

In general I had a lot of plate envy.  I look forward to going back and trying much more as I feel I made some poor choices.  The cost was reasonable and worked out at £25.00 per head on average including wine.  The staff were friendly, efficient and made helpful suggestions.  The overall image was slick and modern with salutes to the past but categorically down to earth and by no means up itself.  

I'll be back.