Down by the Riverside

22 February 2008

Stef Porter enjoys romantic views and flavourful food on a date at the River Bar + Kitchen

Choosing a restaurant for your romantic night out is decision that can make or ruin your evening. From my point of view, there are two ways of choosing a restaurant: (1) “Darling, why don’t you choose this time?” Note: shifting of responsibility and blame; (2) ‘Right, we’re going here!’ The latter provides me with some sense of decisive male satisfaction, even if I run the risk of being held accountable for the restaurant choice. If either eatery election system leads you towards River Bar + Kitchen alongside the Cam, then you can consider yourself very much a beneficiary of this voting procedure.

The location is ideal for a romantic meal for two. The backdrop of a tastefully lit Magdalene College and yellow street lamps glistening off the Cam is amorous, if not a little Andrew Lloyd Webber. I greatly approve of restaurants that feel spacious. River Bar + Kitchen ticks this box. The layout gives you a sense of privacy and intimacy without giving you the feeling of being in an empty restaurant. Décor is modern, sleek and simple. The venue has to contend with life as both a restaurant and a cocktail bar, meaning it does have a slight identity crisis.

The food, without doubt, is good. It’s not amazing, but it’s good. There is something very charming about a simple and honest menu. Eating out as a student is not about pretentious food and expensive wine-it’s about down-to-earth food and affordable wine. Thankfully, this restaurant provides both. To accompany our meal, on our waitress’s recommendation, we shared a bottle of Chilean Merlot (£13), which worked ideally with the array of flavours on our plates.

I opted for “Duck Breast marinated with Asian spices, ginger infused rice and crispy chilli mange-touts”. That was it. The duck was cooked perfectly-pink and tender-and the sweetness of the marinade contrasted with the kick of the mange-touts. I know I harp on about this every week, but great food is about committed flavours. Contrast amongst the same dish is also vital. Every bite should appeal to all your taste buds. There’s nothing worse than a dish where every bite tastes the same. My girlfriend has a “Baked Portabello Mushroom stuffed with Pine-Nuts, Mozzarella and Sun-Dried Tomatoes, served with Roasted Shallots and Baby New Potatoes.” Wow! Again, it does what it says. The vegetarian options in the River Bar were extensive and impressive. There was no ubiquitous combination of pasta and tomato sauce. The veggie options were just as enticing as the meat and fish dishes. That’s praise indeed coming from carnivore number one.

Desserts, as so often in restaurants of this ilk, don’t quite excite as much the main courses. The Lemon Cheesecake was okay-it was inoffensive, but lacked zing. The White Chocolate Bauvoise was odd. I ordered it just because I didn’t know what it was. I still don’t know what it is. It was bouncy on the tongue. Now call me old-fashioned, but that ain’t right. We also had the option of sharing strawberries and cream-how romantic! I would be wary of this, though. Out of season strawberries are not the same. I still vow that D’Arry’s is your place for amazing desserts.

From a price point of view, there are many more expensive places out there. For an independent restaurant, you expect to pay more than you would in a chain. Mains ranged from £8 to £11. I think that’s pretty good.