Was the food at this easy going East End eatery riveting or rotten?
As you can probably tell from this blog, I’m fairly anal about eating out. I like to plan things as much as possible, from booking reservations to deciding who eats what (ahead of time if at all possible), so it was with a fair degree of trepidation when I found myself wandering the back streets of Shoreditch following Wicket’s birthday celebrations. The furry little fellow couldn’t decide where he wanted to dine for the anniversary of his successful gestation and vaginal emergence. He only plumped for the Rivington Grill after we happened to stumble upon it purely by chance.
Although the tables are decked out in white tablecloth, the Rivington Grill has a casual atmosphere and the décor is rather bare apart from the occasional neon light fixture or chunk of wood panelling. Although there only appeared to be one poor, put-upon waitress covering the two-dozen covers or so on our Sunday evening visit, she was chipper and very accommodating.
While I was content to sip apple juice and sparkling water of the entirety of our evening, Kangaroo Face is a committed oenophile and chose a 2010 bottle of Chateau du Donjon Minervois, an apparently obscure French red. He and Wicket seemed to enjoy the soft, mellow, richly tannic quality of the wine which seemed to compliment their food well.
Apparently, whole suckling pigs are the Rivington’s speciality, but this has to be preordered in advance which left the three of us bereft of porcine indulgence. The birthday boy began with a starter of ham hock and green bean salad. He enjoyed the crisp beans as well as the tender strips of pork which weren’t too salty and were complimented well by the piccalilli which wasn’t too fiery for his lily-livered palate, but was still quite mustardy.
Amusingly, the Rivington Grill’s menu has a section entirely devoted to starters served on toast. I opted for the buck rarebit which is cheese on toast topped with a poached egg. The crunchy toast had a dense layer of creamy, tart cheese although there wasn’t quite as much Worcestershire sauce as I would have liked. The poached egg was quite solid which it meant the yolk wasn’t as runny or as rich as I was expecting. Not bad, but I wouldn’t have it again.
As well as being an oenophile, Kangaroo Face also ogles and overeats oysters. The half dozen rock oysters here were fresh, juicy, smooth and creamy.
Kangaroo Face followed up his oysters with more shellfish in the form of scallops served with bacon and sea furslane, a dish that Wicket also plumped for. Sea furslane is apparently a seaborne vegetable similar to seaweed, but its chewy toughness didn’t make for good eating. Both enjoyed the fresh, firm scallops which had a slightly crispy, caramelised crust that went very nicely with the bacon. With just four scallops each though, they were glad to have the extra nosh provided by Wicket’s side dish of Jersey royal potatoes.
The simply prepared lamb chop was moist and tender and an offaly tinge to it which is no surprise given that it had been grilled along with kidneys skewered on a sprig of rosemary. As good as the lamb chop was, the kidneys were even more enjoyable thanks to their herbal offalyness and firm texture. The firm almost patty-like serving of accompanying bubble and squeak, made from potatoes, cabbage and carrots, was quite hearty if not especially memorable.
As if Wicket and Kangaroo Face weren’t boozed up enough, the two of them opted for another bottle of wine, this time a 2010 bottle of Raval Bardolino. Paler than the Minervois, it wasn’t particularly interesting in its own right but was a nice compliment to their dishes.
As enjoyable as our savoury dishes were, they’re not especially distinctive. Our desserts, on the other hand, were far more striking. Although it may well have been the booze talking, Kangaroo Face declared Rivington’s Trinity House Burnt Cream to be the best crème brûlée to be the best he had ever tasted. The crisp, burnt, caramelized crust gave way to a firmly set custard that was smooth yet solid and almost tasted like clotted cream.
Tanked up Wicket was similarly dazzled by his treacle tart served with Devonshire cream, declaring it to be ‘amazing’. He loved the thick and crunchy pastry base, while the flavoursome treacle was sweet without being excessively cloying. It was also gooey but in a ‘loose’ way so it wasn’t too sticky or viscous.
My own dessert of honeycomb ice cream with toffee wasn’t quite a runaway hit like the other two desserts, but it was still pretty good. Although it’s not quite as flavoursome as Wild Honey’s trademark honeycomb ice cream, the Rivington’s ice cream somehow captures the viscosity of honey without being too cloyingly sweet. The small crunchy bits of honeycomb add an extra layer of taste and texture while the thin toffee, served separately in a small jug, somehow manages to taste milky, sugary and burnt all at the same time (sorry folks, no photo of this one).
Judging the Rivington Grill is surprisingly tricky. Although the food is generally very good, it’s quite traditional and safe – it’s not as distinctive or as inventive as I would’ve expected at this price. It’s a tad overpriced for what it is, but if you’re looking for well-executed, simple British grills then it’s a good choice. Personally though, if I can get into the nearby branch of Hawksmoor then I’d much rather eat there instead.
Name: Rivington Grill
Branch tried: 28-30 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3DZ
Phone: 0207 729 7053
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday, 08.00-23.00. Saturday 11.00-23.00 and Sunday 11.00-22.00.
Reservations: highly recommended.
Total cost for one person including drinks: £45 approx.