My latest stop off at Victoria’s Nova development – quite literally, given their travelling ethos – was the Rail House Café. A novelty to me, they were having an “honesty policy” during their soft launch, i.e. you pay for what you want. Struck by this liberal approach, I eagerly booked and boarded the train with two fellow foodie friends.
Given the stiff competition facing restaurants in London, particularly in the buzzing hub that is the Nova Quarter, with competition ranging from the recently opened Hai Cenato and Franco Manca, to Timmy Green and Sourced Market, coupled with rising business rates across the capital, restaurants are having to become ever more innovative to attract diners and secure repeat customers. Indeed, although 2016 saw the highest number of restaurants openings, it was also the year with the most number of closures. Whilst restaurants are opening at a dizzying pace, it’s no wonder that they’re having to go to extreme lengths to throw open their doors.
It’s striking that this is even the case for the Rail House Café, which is from the same team behind brunch hot spot, the Riding House Café – whose juices and smoothies served in milk bottles have become iconic – and Bermondsey’s Village East. Adam White, the Village London’s founder, is one of the capital’s best loved restaurateurs. In contrast to his other restaurants, this space is much larger with a 330-cover. Its glass architecture – like so many buildings in the Nova complex – still amazes me. Yet, despite this glassy exterior, one of the highlights of our evening was the Café’s interior. The bespoke furniture, the buzz of the open kitchen and the charming interior touches – particularly the tables on wheelies which resemble train carriages – soften the new, factory-look. And given Victoria’s location as a travel thoroughfare, the Rail House Café’s name and location is fitting.
Menu-wise, the Rail House Café serve modern all-day brasserie food, with playful twists on contemporary favourites. Beginning our evening on the cosy sofas – a welcome relief from the Monday monsoon – my companions enjoyed glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and an exotic-sounding herby Saffron Spritz alongside a sharing platter of European cheeses (which were actually all English), chutney and biscuits.
For mains, the menu was surprisingly limited in terms of vegan/vegetarian options. After chatting with a number of different waiters, I eventually ordered the Heritage Beetroot Salad with Mustard Leaves (£7.50) and the Freekeh Salad (£11) with pomegranate, cashews, mint, za’atar and avocado. I also ordered sides of Roasted Cauliflower with Japanese five-spice and Roasted Squash. Although our service was a bit haphazard – this was their opening night after all – when my Freekeh Salad did eventually arrive without the feta (which was mistakenly initially served), it was ideal bowl food. As I’ve widely experimented with in my home kitchen, grains, avocado and toasted nuts (either cashews or almonds), with a touch of seasoning, always make for a solid salad assemblage. The pairing of creamy greens with crunchy nuts never disappoints. I was very glad I hadn’t gone for the substitution of tofu with feta which the waitress had recommended – to me, this was confusion rather than fusion…
Alongside this, the squash (which I had to remind the waiters to bring a number of times) also added a welcome rooted heartiness, whilst the beetroot salad was delicious. The beetroot puree it was presented on added to the textural diversity of the plate. The cauliflower, however, was disappointing. For me, it was rather dry and could have done with both further seasoning and a drizzle of tahini.
My companions equally found their dishes rather dry, such that they repeatedly requested a wedge of lemon to uplift the foods.
Whilst this was their opening night, we had high expectations given the well-trodden path of Village East and the Riding House Café. Nevertheless, I’m keen to give them another try at breakfast – probably as it’s an excuse to road-test (or rail-test) their fantastic breakfast/brunch menu. Since brunch is what the Riding House Café have excelled in, the Rail House Café may follow suit.
Rail House Café, 8 Sir Simon Milton Square, London, Victoria, SW1E 5DJ