Walking along the Thames Path on a sunny but fresh April afternoon, enjoying the first day of being able to dine in a restaurant, albeit outdoor only, we had a spring in our step, heading to Sam's Riverside. The restaurant is in the same building as the legendary, regenerated Riverside Studios, the Hammersmith art centre, which hosts a variety of events, including cinema, television and theatre.
We caught the first dinner sitting of the first day after lockdown, but now the restaurant has fully reopened, availability is no longer confined to the terrace tables. The owner, Sam Harrison, was there in person to welcome guests, and his passion for the place was evident from his hands-on approach. When the restaurant opened in 2019, he was inspired as a teenager working with his godmother to enter hospitality, admiring the teamwork and dedication needed to cater to customers. More recently, Sam took a leaf out of Rick and Jill Stein’s book while working for them.
On the opening day, Sam’s team seemed to revel in being able to attend to guests again, offering us the perfect start to our first night out in such a long time with a glass of Gusbourne English sparkling wine. Although the brasserie’s specialities, oysters, seafood platter and lobster were tempting, we opted for a more traditional three-course menu, starting with a light assortment of perfectly balanced spring heritage cauliflower, pickled carrots, dandelion leaves and pomegranate dressing matched with Lobster Bisque with Crème Fraiche.
There were five very different options for the main, catering for vegetarians with the braised fennel bulb, baby Leeks, caramelised shallot and cherry tomato confit. The choice from the non-vegetarian menu did not come easy, ranging from Roast Tronçon of Devon Brill, Fosse Meadows Chicken, Cornish Lamb and Rib-Eye of Hereford Beef. Our choice was the perfectly presented lamb with uncomplicated cooking by head chef Ashley Tinoco, allowing natural flavours to take centre stage.
Born in India, Tinoco started his hospitality career as a trainee cook for Taj Hotels in his home state of Goa, now overseeing the 15-strong kitchen team at Sam’s Riverside, as well as the selection of homemade dishes sold at the recently launched Sam's Larder, a grocer and delicatessen, adjacent to the restaurant. It’s been a labour of love, reveals Sam, as we have filled the shelves with everything we adore. Located on Crisp Road, behind the restaurant, it is the perfect complement to the restaurant, where you can find the best of ingredients for our home cooking.
And then there is always the option to take advantage of Sam’s Riverside’s take away menu from the restaurant's front with wine, cocktails, oysters, seafood and burgers to enjoy, either at home or along the river, with a special collection menu for you to indulge at home. However, there really isn’t any substitute for visiting Sam’s Riverside. Often, restaurants will be found wanting in the art of welcoming their guests. At Sam’s Riverside, the excellent kitchen and the slick, elegant design of the restaurant are fully matched with the front of house welcome and service, now duly acknowledged by the Michelin guide experience.
This year, nature seems to have felt the need to moderate its emerging spring to imitate or reflect our hesitant and constrained steps towards normality in our lives with an unusually long progression from winter's cold days to the much-awaited summer. Wherever you would choose to start your summer day’s stroll along Thame’s meanderings, appreciating your newfound freedom, Sam’s Riverside is surely a worthy destination, with a warm welcome, wonderful food and drink aplenty.