We have a seat at the bar, with a good view of the room. It's huge, with a long bar and many tables alongside, and a separate, more desirable area nearer the entrance with blue leather booths. It's incredibly busy - could be because it's soft-launching with 50% off food, or because it's a Friday night... or possibly it's still being seen as an after-work boozer by some. Whether this is intentional or not, I'm not sure. But there are certainly other signs of accommodating any type of punter.
Having had a couple already (it being about 9:30) we go straight onto the wine. A Languedoc Pinot Noir (La Boussole, £26) is bold and heavier than more temperate-climed Pinots, and so actually better with food in terms of applying the brakes. Sometimes Pinots, especially from Burgundy and NZ, can be so light and smooth, they just fly down your throat bottle by bottle - not always a wise choice in uptown establishments!
Beetroot carpaccio (£3) was a bit too oily but decent enough, whilst the pork belly (£4) was a great snack - perfect crackling, and an excellent balance of fat and meat beneath.
Moorish lamb cutlets (£5) were juicy and pink, and great value actually. I'd definitely order these again.
The chateaubriand (£42) was a fair size for two. It was well cooked, and presented well on a stand with tomatoes, mushrooms and good bearnaise and bordelaise sauces. However the meat itself wasn't overly flavoursome and sadly a bit forgettable. The chips (ordered on the side, £3.50) were limp, soggy and quite miserly. Nice roast potatoes though (also £3.50).
So it was a tad underwhelming, but it wasn't bad by any stretch and the other dishes I saw coming out (great view of the kitchen from some of the bar stools) looked excellent. We did enjoy The Riding House Cafe, and I would come back to try more of the extensive menu.
The service was good, very eager to please but a bit nervy. They seemed well trained and informed, so this is only set to improve. The beautiful blue leather bar stools were very comfy, but you do get bumped a lot being on the main thoroughfare, and by some staff too. It was a bit too packed - perhaps they could make the pints less visible to discourage pubby standing around (behind bar diners), or have it as table service only, unless sat at the bar obviously.
Which leads in to the question of the identity crisis. Confused? Desperate to please and cater? Or is it deftly all things to all men, in that effortless way New York does so well? That night it was after-work pub, tapas joint, haute bistro, cocktail bar...maybe in time it can pull all these things off in harmony (and also breakfasts, coffee, power lunches...), but I think it might be too much, too soon.
It aspires to something in the mix of Dean Street Townhouse, the Electric or the fabulous Schiller's Liquor Bar, (not to mention Village East), and I don't doubt it will nestle in there and be around for some time. Slow down, and ditch the pubbiness, plenty of boozers nearby. And later opening hours with the full food menu would help further add to the New York feel.
Food – 7/10
Drink – 8/10
Service – 7/10
Value – 8/10 (50% off food made it excellent, but proposed prices as above are reasonable, especially the small plates)
Tap water tales – 7/10 (groovy Labour and Wait style jug and cool blue glasses)
Staff Hotness – 7/10 (young, enthusiastic and friendly)
The Riding House Cafe
43-51 Great Titchfield Street, W1