It's often on that first sip of wine, particularly at the start of a lunch, that I relish the fact that I am still, not, not quite, an alcoholic. There’s the swirl in the glass, on this occasion a delightful, fresh nose from a Condes de Albarei Albarino 2018, then that first sip and the delicious sensation of some tender nuggets of alcohol dancing nimbly through my veins. There’s that rush of bonhomie in my brain and, on this occasion, a further coursing of happiness swirling about my soul as I relish the experience of drinking with my teenage children.
I love to explain to my 18 and 16-year-old how to appreciate wine, to sniff and savour and relish a good bottle. And all this joy heightened at being at Sam’s Riverside by the Thames in Hammersmith with the prospect of a good lunch on a sunny day, edging out of lockdown with words like oysters, lobster, steak and chips at our fingertips.
This was our first restaurant experience together since the plague imprisoned us and the confluence of location, sun, river, wine, kids and lobster made me glad to be alive.
And I tried to remind myself, as I often do, of the importance of being strong-willed enough not to have a fifteenth sip of wine as it could mean the banishment of that most perfect first one.
These slippery slopes aside we had taken our seats inside Sam’s Riverside, a bright and airy brasserie in London with a view of Hammersmith Bridge. We had spotted this alcove of a table, made cosier, unintentionally, by the addition of plastic screens, which were everywhere, from the faces of staff to between tables. But they were tasteful and non-invasive.
And owner Sam Harrison is, like many seasoned restaurateurs, managing the safety measures well and with confidence. Although I don’t like the no physical menu malarkey. Instead we were given QR codes so we could read the menus online.
As someone who thinks phones should be put away at the table I find it depressing that getting them out is compulsory so you can order. But I was pleased my children agreed; seasoned restaurant-goers/wine sippers/junior critics that they are becoming.
Lunch ensued with bite-size crab on delicious soft bread and naughty churros sprinkled with parmesan; the latter a very novel and moreish appetiser.
I then wolfed down a bunch of soft and sweet oysters from Northern Ireland’s Carlingford Lough sea inlet while Alice had some meltingly fine smoked salmon and Albert demolished a plate of Isle of White tomatoes with soft cow’s cheese and lovage. This was an unusual choice perhaps for a strapping young tennis-playing lad known more for wolfing carbs, but he was rightly intrigued by this as a starter and a pre-curser to steak.
He found them wonderfully tasty and sweet and Alice and I congratulated him on his staggeringly mature ordering.
He was soon rewarded for his restraint with a rare sirloin, thin, crisp chips and bearnaise sauce. Alice had a version of this in a salad, piled beautifully high, while I rekindled my love affair with a recent Suffolk holiday by consuming a grilled native lobster.
It was well-cooked, but had a little too much butter and, as you’ll know, there’s only so much of a good thing that I like to flirt with before collapsing into a sea of cholesterol and alcoholism.
So we closed proceedings with delectable chocolate mousse, sensibly designed by being not too rich (a safety harness, if you like, on those cliffs of oblivion) and a lemon posset which was soft, creamy and tart: good but not so good that you get carried away and eat the whole thing; this one needs sharing).
We left Sam’s Riverside happier than a crowd of smiling Larries. Hurrah for Sam and his team whose deep understanding of hospitality make this place an utter triumph.