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By Ben Booker
An end of autumn Sunday, mid-morning on Oxford Street is a sentence that would fill most genuine Londoners with terror. Normally, for a Londoner, a visit to Oxford Street signals the end of time and/or the apocalypse. No self-respecting human being living in this great city genuinely ‘goes’ to Oxford Street, rather it is forced upon them at a moment in their lives when necessity beats logic. So it was with nervous trepidation that the Mrs and I headed over to Oxford Street to do some home shopping. In order to make the experience somewhat more palatable we decided to indulge in that most wondrous of past times, the Sunday staple of brunch.
The Riding House Café has been on our radar for some time and it would not surprise me if your host blogger (who bloody loves food) has also been side-glancing in its direction. Worryingly we had not booked and the place has had queues out the door for weeks. Somehow we lucked upon a lull in service and the wait time was only 40 minutes. Perfect we said, and popped down to a disused public restroom for a coffee. No you did not read that incorrectly, The Attendant is a brilliant little coffee-house based in an old underground men’s public loo. This may sound bizarre and it was, which is exactly what made it brilliant. The coffee was good and the sandwiches and salads were tempting me in a very sensual way. Alas we had a table at the Riding House Café, another time (#firstworldproblems).
Arriving at the Riding House Café is like walking into a room designed by a vintage barber shop. It is both beautiful and dated and sits under an incongruous 1960s ‘shouldhavebeendemolishedyearsago’ type building. Fortunately it was not and the Riding House Café has taken full advantage. Decked-out a bit like a gastro pub but with elegance, the dining area centres around the bar which is fortunate as that is where we were sat. This was absolutely fine and a far cry from the sort of place where they shove you at the bar just to fit you in. Instead the bar is actually made for eating and it is a lovely addition. Coffees ordered, provided and glugged were delicious and anticipation soared – the menu beckoned.
For those of you that read this guest reviewer’s last review (Hot Box) you will know I enjoy and respect a simple menu. The Riding House Café speaks my language, there are brunch classics, there are roasts, sandwiches and other lovely tidbits that I could have spent all afternoon gorging myself on. R (the Mrs) felt the same, so much so that outrageously, against all custom, defying the gods that set aside that time of day for brunch the words “I am having the roast beef” toppled out of her mouth. “Christ” I exclaimed, the Mrs meant business, I had better re-think my eggs-benedict and fast. Back to that simple menu, ahoy! A reuben sandwich! A classic option and a chance for this vintage classic to re-establish itself in my mind. My last reuben was not ideal, it was consumed under railway arches at monty’s deli in maltby street market. It was disappointing after all the hype. So it was with excitement that I placed my order. To my left the roast beef was ordered alongside a request for medium rare meat (that’s my girl)and to our delight the response came, do not worry we would never recommend it cooked any other way. Music to our ears.
This was turning into lunch so, naturally a beer was in order and when Samuel Adams is on tap there is no other alternative. A crisp pint is the perfect accompaniment to a sandwich and as the reuben arrived I exhaled with delight. Sauerkraut, pastrami pickle and Emmental cheese could all be picked out but what’s more the cheese oozed out from beneath beautifully toasted bread. It is safe to say I was pumped. The roast beef was medium rare with a side of fresh vegetables and roast potatoes. One of the stars of any roast is a Yorkshire pudding and this one did not disappoint. I am reliably informed that it was fluffy on the inside crispy on the outside, not that you would know because it disappeared in a matter of seconds. At £20 the roast is not cheap but it is cracking food and if it is what you are in the mood for it will not disappoint.
The reuben was delicious and has restored my faith in the star sandwich. The cheese to meat ratio was perfect, not an easy thing to achieve with two strong flavours. The fries on the side were a good side show providing a salty pause to the otherwise rich sandwich. The food was demolished and there were clean plates all round.
It is fair to say we were both mightily impressed by the Riding House Café. Often there are so many reasons to avoid Oxford Street but now, finally, there is a jolly good reason to go.