I wasn't really planning on blogging about my recent trip to RSJ. I went with my family and a couple of my brother's friends to celebrate his 24th birthday. We drank champagne, talked very loudly about matters that probably shouldn't be discussed at the dinner table and worked our way through the menu. I didn't obsess about sitting near enough a window to get a good photo or make sure that I was eating something different to everyone else; I just had a good time. However the quality of the ingredients, the skill of the cooking and the praise heaped on the restaurant by all of us convinced me otherwise.
RSJ is one of those undiscovered gems that deserves to be much more well known than it is. But then I wouldn't be able to get a table there so maybe not. It is mere minutes from the tourist trap of the Southbank where you queue for an hour for a mediocre meal at a chain restaurant. You would probably walk past the restaurant without even realising it was there not least because the ground floor consists of a private room and the kitchens; the restaurant proper is upstairs.
The dining room is simple; mint green walls, pale wood with plenty of windows making it feel light and airy. The restaurant was founded over 30 years ago in some converted 19th century stables although you wouldn't know it now. The name comes from the rolled steel joists (RSJs) required to support the ceiling.
The food is probably best described as modern European and the monthly menu makes good use of seasonal produce. There is a fixed price menu (£18.95 for three courses) and an a la carte offering of 6 starters and 6 main courses although it's possible to pick and choose between the two.
The wine list is comprehensive but focuses on the Loire Valley region of France with over 250 varieties and bottles are reasonably priced. The staff know their stuff and the restaurant holds regular wine tasting events.
To start, I had gnocchi with asparagus and broad beans in a tomato and basil sauce with a shaving of fresh parmesan. Broad beans are pretty darn good aren't they? I really should eat more of them especially when they are so perfectly in season. One of my brother's friends had the same dish and actually licked the plate clean. And then offered to lick mine. I declined. Fresh and full of flavour, this was a perfect dish for a summer evening. Three of the table had a salad of confit rabbit with tomato petals and pickled mushrooms in a tarragon dressing. This dish drew the highest praise of the evening, the pickled mushrooms managing to convert even the most ardent mushroom-hater.
I followed the gnocchi with the roast duck breast served with an aubergine parmigiana, pesto and golden beetroot. The duck breast was perfectly pink and whilst I wouldn't have thought of pairing the meat with the Mediterranean flavours of the aubergine and pesto, the plate was well-balanced. The beetroot was a revelation and the earthy taste was key in bringing the dish together. Clean plates all round. As for the other choices, a baby gem, broad bean and stilton salad elevated a humble steak and chips into something more refined.
I didn't actually have a dessert but tried a taste of the lime and coconut panna cotta which was an admirable example of the genre. A frankly massive chocolate pot with griottine cherries hidden at the bottom defeated us all and some raspberry ice cream, accompanying an almond and apricot cake, was described, with no little hyperbole, as the best ice cream ever tasted, combining, as it did, the flavour of a sorbet with the creaminess of ice cream.
The food at RSJ is excellent and the staff delightful. Given a choice between here and the other options in the neighbourhood, RSJ would win every time.