New on Wine List Confidential: River Café

Simply one of the most outstanding Italian restaurants in London, with an exceptional wine team and and exclusively Italian (bar for the Champagne) wine list classified from north to south.

Just over three decades young, which is longer an innings than the equivalent in dog years for a London restaurant, The (legendary) River Café has continously driven the agenda for evangelical ingredientism – sourcing, sourcing and sourcing is their mantra. Via it, founders, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray have also helped launch chef alumni, Jamie Oliver, Theo Randall and despite having been fired from it, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall into the limelight.

Few diners bar the independently wealthy could consider the food menu at the Thames-side canteen, with thin slim blue carpet and single glazed windowns, as particularly bargainous, although, despite the wine list starring a roll-call of Italy’s greatest winemaking talents – Antinori, Conterno, Gaja, Giacosa, Montevertine, San Leonardo, Sassicaia, Quintarelli and Voerzio to name but a few – relative value is actually easily found. Indeed, there are around 35 authored bottles priced below £50, such as Rubeno’s blueberry-esque Lagrein (Cantine Adriano) compared to just one over £1,000 in the form of Titan, Massetto ‘04.

The vinous selection is, with the exception of Champagne, exclusively Italian and ‘classified from north to south, by head sommelier, Christophe Decoux, who ‘discovered the enjoyment of wine tasting at the River Cafe with Ossie Gray, son of the late Rose Gray.’ Hence, alongside Billecart-Salmon Brut, Rosé and Blanc de Blancs by the flute, you could also open with ever-rewarding Franciacorta from Bellavista or Ca’ del Bosco.

‘We choose our wines for their drinkability, but also prioritise minimal intervention in the vineyard,’ says on-topic, Decoux, who also worked on the Ile de Ré, in charge of the wine list for the ‘great Eric Beaumard, who was an inspiration.’ Wines needs to reflect the quality of the food, urges Decoux, ‘as our customers come from afar, sometime once a week, or once a year, but in any case, we give the same quality of service in order to reflect this ethos.’

Decoux’s wines by the glass change with the season, with colder month sseeing Nebbiolo rule. ‘There is nothing better than Stinco di Vitello with a glass of Barolo Massolino,’ purrs Decoux. Also by the glass, you could meet the relatively humbly priced Pieropan Soave (and their limestone-sown La Rocca), and, with a wisely placed asterix advising guests to ‘please speak to a sommelier about these unusual wines’,  the occasional naturally-inclined, skin-contact bin, such as Gravner’s gloriously perplexing Ribolla Gialla.

Busy Decoux and his four troupe of four sommeliers are ‘constantly attending wine tastings,’ he reports, ‘and we travel to Italy several times a year in order to keep ourselves up-to-date.’ Indeed, November saw the senior front of house staff, sommeliers and chefs visit Piedmont and Tuscany. ‘These educational trips are inspiring and help us share our knowledge with the customer… We are all passionate! This is probably the key to success.’ Although Decoux enjoys focusing on Italian wine at the restaurant, he also ‘makes time to keep up with French wine at home.’

Dishes, featuring uncompromisingly soured ingredients, rarely change much in composition, which is absolutely not a bone of contention, and could include antipasto of artichokes alla Romana, agretti, baked ricotta di bufala and smashed black olives, or Carpaccio di manzo with Harry’s Bar sauce, followed by primi of mezzo paccheri pasta with Scottish langoustines with black pepper, Pecorino and butter, then secondi of whole Dover Sole, wood-roasted on a rosemary branch with red wine vinegar, or a whole Anjou pigeon. Visit the cheese room for a few freshly carved formaggi with Muscat grapes, perhaps including unpasteurised Umbria Caprino Stagionato al Caprone if you’re lucky, then culminate, if you have both room in tummy and funds on your platinum card, with pear and almond tart with a good moisturising scoop of ice cream and a glass of ’91 Vernaccia di Oristano (Contini).

 

 

Wine List Confidential, brought to you by the drinks business, is the first platform to rank London’s restaurants on the strength of their wine list alone, providing a comprehensive guide to the best restaurants in the capital for wine lovers.

Restaurants are graded on a 100-point scale based on five criteria: size, value, service, range and originality. For a full guide to London’s best wine lists visit winelistconfidential.com

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