Restaurant Review: River Bar Steakhouse & Grill

Address: Quayside, Cambridge CB5 8AQ

Date of visit: 08 December 2015, 19:30pm

Should have put this up much earlier but, it’s Christmas and busy time of the year.

For my 27th birthday, I was taken somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time, one of the finest eateries in the city, the River Bar Steakhouse and Grill.

Being the festive party season, the place was busy with visiting work Christmas parties but it wasn’t hellish or intrusive (apart from when a cork from an exuberant table flew in our direction but that’s no fault of the restaurant). The steakhouse itself is a converted former quayside warehouse, and the decor is exposed beams and brick walls with some leather couches. Classy and upmarket yet charmingly rustic is how I’d describe the ambience here. It isn’t an intimidating place. The wait staff were all glamourous and young, clad in black, and we were greeted by the front of house lady and led to our table without delay.  There were two floors worth of seating plus a roof terrace offering views of the city’s most beautiful and oldest buildings.

Sadly I couldn’t sample their pretty inviting-looking cocktail menu (the downside of working nights during the week) but will be back again on a non working night to do so – they claim “Should you prefer to choose a sophisticated beverage efficiently, matching your taste exactly, for the benefit of our guests we are delighted to provide a cocktail flavour map.”, not something I’ve seen in other cocktail bars so that was a nice twist. They offer all the classic old-school drinks plus a few of the modern favourites and more, including one or two house specials. I love a cocktail but often get a bit turned off by some of the new-fangled ones (I think it’s because I can’t make it at home as many use special liqueurs that you wouldn’t have any other use for bar that one drink) but this entire menu appealed. I settled for a mocktail instead.

A mocktail - afraid I cannot remember its name..
A mocktail – afraid I cannot remember its name..

As for the food menu, it doesn’t re-invent the wheel but is good, classic steakhouse fare. Most of the menu is devoted to the steak offerings, with burgers, vegetarian and fish options in smaller print further down. Well, obviously, being a steakhouse, I wasn’t going to have anything else.

For starter, we settled upon sharing a baked camembert, something which despite its easiness to cook at home, I have never cooked because it to me is such an indulgence – a big bubbling lava lake of fat and sin (and before you think I’ve gone all Calgary Avansino on you, did you hear me say that it was a bad thing?). It was my birthday, it’s the Christmas season…I was going in!

Baked camembert....everything the clean eaters despise - dairy, gluten, carbs, fat and LOTS of it. GLorious and felt like a real treat. Well aware I can bake one at home but that's not a a habit to get into...
Baked camembert….everything the clean eaters despise – dairy, gluten, carbs, fat and LOTS of it. GLorious and felt like a real treat. Well aware I can bake one at home but that’s not a a habit to get into…

The camembert was pretty decently sized, and it arrived fairly promptly, accompanied by sweet onion jam and home-made bread, topped with a fir-tree sprig of rosemary which infused its sweet woodsiness into the savoury, cloying cheesy pond.  Which we devoured like two trick-or-treaters over their stash of candy on Halloween night.  You don’t get the chance to eat a whole wheel of rich French cheese between two very often after all..

I can cook steak. Reasonably well, but I have never had fillet, which I see as one of the more luxurious cuts, so this what I opted for – 8oz medium rare. The OH went for the rump which comes marinated in beer and spices. THe menu stated that all steaks come served with hand cut wedges or chips, roasted tomato and watercress with a choice of béarnaise, green peppercorn or bourbon & barbeque sauce. I opted for hand cut wedges based on the OH’s recommendation (he had a works night out here previously) and bearnaise.

Fillet steak, with hand cut wedges, béarnaise, roasted tomato and watercress. I just know I’d muck up trying to cook one at home, though I have to say the béarnaise left me a bit cold..

I definitely think I will only order fillet when eating out because it was absolutely to die for – festooned with black lattice griddle marks to add its appeal and meltingly soft and tender meet, almost sweet. I definitely took my time with this one! The wedges came in crunchy fat semi-circles and were definitely NOT out of a big Birds’ Eye bag! They looked and tasted like they’d been made properly and the roasted tomato was rich and savoury  – so for once I ate the veggie garnish as I feel it partnered well with the meal. THe only part I wasn’t sold on was béarnaise sauce – I’d never had this classic sauce before but to me it just tasted like slightly fancy mayonnaise and didn;t add anything – the steak had enough flavour to carry the meal alone.

I certainly wouldn’t attempt to match this at home – fillet is a prime cut and in my opinion, best left to professionals. I’m a home cook and know my abilities and limits. I can do a decent ribeye but that’s where I’m leaving it – I know you can buy fillet off the supermarket shelf, but then why bother treating yourself to going out to eat? Sometimes I like to let someone else do the work and if you bugger up a fillet steak, that’s a lot of money wasted. The simplest dishes can also be the easiest to mess up.

Well it was my birthday, so of course there was room for dessert, even in the checked shirt that until recently wouldn’t fit me…..the dessert menu again didn’t break new ground but had some pretty appealing offerings. I’m very particular with desserts in restuarants. Girdle-busting chocolate sin-fests are too heavy for me so the brownie was out..I decided to move beyond my usual cheesecake option (I know hardly the light option but they usually come in manageable portions!), the bread-and-butter pudding sounded glorious but I had work later and my fitted attire to consider…in the end, my choice was the Chocolate Bourbon Pot with Italian Meringue, laced with Jack Daniels. A decadent sweet mouthful or several.

Chocolate Bourbon Pot with Italian Meringue, laced with Jack Daniels. Just the right way to end a pretty bloody good meal.

Italian meringue is the crispier, airier variety and worked well with the cool, rounded-spiciness from the bourbon and classy darkness of the chocolate (no crude great hits of overly-sweet milk chocolate here), and the portion size wasn’t too Man Vs Food but just right.  Toby had the cheesecake, which interestingly came in a glass rather than the usual wedge on a saucer with an artsy squirt of coulis.

I can’t provide the price as it was a birthday dinner (I didn’t pay!) but I’ll put a link to the food menu at the end of this post.

Overall, if you’re in Cambridge, come to River Bar. It’s in one of the best locations in the city, offers views of the most historical city colleges, Magdalene, and the food, whilst nothing groundbreaking is more than worth the somewhat steep (but about right for Cambridge which isn’t the cheapest of cities) price tags. We actually asked the front-of-house lady to tell our waiter how excellent he was – he was so attentive, always on hand to refill our water glasses, and we didn’t ask for any of it. Small things like this make the difference.

It’s just a shame I couldn’t try the cocktails to provide a well-rounded review but rest assure I will return, like Bill’s, it’s been earmarked on the returns list. The decor and ambience are very inviting – you feel like you’re eating somewhere special yet without being intimidated by snootiness; the menu just the right size (the bigger the menu, the more likely you’ll be eating a ready meal in my view) and the steaks cooked perfectly. Portion sizes generous yet not belly-busting.

Food: 10/10
Service: 10/10
Price: 7/10
Ambience: 9/10

I liked:
-Wonderful food – simple menu but cooked very well.
-Superb waiting service
-Interesting cocktail menu
-Classy yet approachable ambience
-Fantastic location
-Promotion of local produce on the menu

I didn’t like:
– Some tables a bit too close together; I like a bit of personal space in a restaurant especially in the season of works Christmas dos.
-Stairs to enter the restaurant cramped, so you may have to wait if a large party of people are leaving! But it’s a renovated building so that’s part of its character.

 

 

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Restaurant Review: Bill’s Cambridge Restaurant

Address: 34-35 Green St, Cambridge CB2 3JX

Date of visit: 04 November 2015, 16:50pm

As part of this blog I will be reviewing Cambridge eateries, preferably not the big chains though. Yesterday I had to head into town to visit the Apple store for some work on my phone, and rather than face the rush hour traffic, decided to have an early supper. We settle on Bill’s, as the OH had been there before and it just looked appealing, not too informal and not the default chain choice (though I believe they are a small chain).

Hard to pin down what the place is, I’ve summarised it as an Italian deli-cum-gastropub with cocktail bar. Purely based upon the ambience inside – we’re talking bijou wood panelling, Italian grocery containers as ornaments, lots of chalkboards, including three with recipes written on – a lovely touch. Overall a very pleasant atmosphere.

Wasn’t especially busy, and we were served immediately by a smiling waitress. Waiting for orders to be taken wasn’t long at all, and we didn’t have to ask for a water jug.

The menu itself was not too big (which as we all know is often a bad sign – think about it; a small pub that has a fifteen page menu? You may as well have bought a ready meal), with a few appealing choices but mostly classic gastropub fare. Fish and chips, burgers, mac and cheese.

As I was driving, decided not to check out the cocktail menu but instead went for their pink lemonade, which, when it arrived, was sold under Bills’ own label. According to the bottle (a charming glass affair not a plastic vending machine special), it was made for them by a small artisan French producer. On the way out, I noted 750ml size bottles available to buy to take home. May do so upon next visit as it was a nice drink. It was garnished with a strawberry in the glass.

Bill's Pink Lemonade, also available for purchase and have at home
Bill’s Pink Lemonade, also available for purchase and have at home

We chose the butcher’s Special mezze to start as it was a shared one (they also offer a veggie version). On offer was hummus, baba ghanoush, marinated olives, pork sausages, chicken kebabs and a sesame-coated meat
kebab. Plus tortilla chips and flatbread. Sounds like a gut buster and a decent if random mix. It arrived fairly quickly, and pleasingly was not overwhelmingly loaded. Perfectly sized if I’m honest.

One chicken skewer each, the sausages were small two-bite affairs on sticks, and the flatbread was about the size of a large pita. Only small criticsim was perhaps bigger dip bowls? Tortilla chips were clearly home made and not from the catering-size bag of knock-off Doritos; chicken skewers were tender and heady with coriander.

The baba ghanoush was to die for. Proper olives too, we’re talking kalamata and those almost avocado-creamy Nocellara or Sicilian ones, not aged, wrinkled bullets straight from the ambient brine jar. They were stone-in though, so watch out.

Mezze - whilst a bit fusion, all the components were high quality and all tasted home made.
Mezze – whilst a bit fusion, all the components were high quality and all tasted home made.

Reasonably short wait for mains – arrived before we finished the starter. But this was more us dragging it out to not have to leave too soon!

I went for the Duck pie. Again, nicely sized, came in the ovular dish you’d expect a pub lasagne or shepherd’s pie to arrive in. I guessed from the menu that it wasn’t going to be pastry, and I was pleasantly surprised. Beneath
the herbed creamy mash topping lurked meltingly soft meat with chewy pearl barley. It was served with some pickled cabbage, which cut through the richness a but and a small jug of gravy which you could add yourself. And it tasted like real gravy, not Bisto. Toby had buttermilk chicken, which was a cutlet served in a bun with sweet potato fries. Sadly I wasn’t resourceful enough to taste it for reviewing purposes but he left the top of the bun so it can’t have been bad!

bills 3

We fore-went dessert and paid. For two, it came to £49.83 including the service charge which I felt was reasonable for Cambridge and what was on the whole, good, honest food. Bill’s is a definite addition to the ‘will return’ list.

Overall, Bill’s is worth a visit. Perhaps the only real problem is that they seem to be trying to be everything. The decor and artisan goods for sale gave it the feel of an Italian delicatessen; whilst the cocktail bar obviously is there to attract the hip young professionals…the menu is a bit too globe-trotting for my taste – it has a bit of an identity crisis, listing burgers and BBQ ribs alongside English pub fare with a bit of the Middle East thrown in.
Although I enjoyed the started and felt it was a nice selection, I wouldn’t call it a true mezze – sharing platter would have done fine. But that’s just me being pernickety as much of the components of the stater WAS the kind served in the Levant.

Food: 10/10
Service: 10/10
Price: 8/10
Ambience: 7/10

I liked:
-Decent price
-Very good quality food, nothing felt like it was out of a Booker’s packet.
-Eclectic menu
-Nice ambience
-Friendly wait staff
-Some lovely products for sale
-Other cute details; recipes on chalkboards etc.

I didn’t like:
– Aforementioned identity crisis. Is it a mezze bar? A British gastropub? Italian deli? Cocktail bar? Stange mix of cuisines on menu – Middle-eastern/BBQ/British pub classics.