On an early summer evening, it’s difficult to imagine a setting more perfect for a social meal with family and friends.
The Riverside at Houghton near Amberley was bathed in sunshine when we arrived at 7.30pm on a Thursday and we were shown to a table set in an oasis of sheer beauty and tranquility.
Forget that the road through Houghton runs just out of sight. With the river to one side flanked by ancient stone bridge, the wonderful South Downs and a row of palm trees, this is as close to paradise as you will find in this corner of England.
When the South Downs National Park was created it was just such a venue that its proponents dreamt of.
The Riverside is many things. With extensive indoor seating as well as on the riverbank, it caters for many different tastes throughout the day.
You can come here for breakfast - it’s open at 9 every morning. You can have morning coffee. Its lunches are a special feature of the area.
It is especially noted for its traditional afternoon teas - just like grandma used to serve! The scones are all homemade, and are presented on stands using fine, vintage china - which immediate conjures up a warm glow of nostalgia.
And on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday they are open in the evening from 6pm when you can come for Tapas or pizza.
We arrived for the Tapas - a new feature of the menu which was only introduced in the past few weeks.
Francesca Chapman - who has been running the Riverside for about five years - decided to feature ‘Tapas by the River’ because no-one else in the area was offering its like.
“To be able to sit out on the riverbank and watch the sun go down and just to be able to have a social dinner which is what tapas is rather than a three course dinner has worked really well,” she explained.
It certainly worked well for us.
It was not merely a different approach to dining it was simply delicious.
We bagan with an anti past board - an amazing selection of prosciutto ham, chorizo, salami Milano, mozzarella, marinated olives and ciabatta (£5.75 for one or £10.90 to share).
It was accompanied with a bread board with oils (£4.25) - including freshly baked rosemary focaccia and french baguette.
The tapas itself - a fusion of European and Asian influences - was wide-ranging and of extraordinarily good value and quality.
Some of our favourites were chicken with lemon and garlic (£5.25); bacon, brie and cranberry croquettes (£4.65); pork and apple scotch egg (£5.25); Spanish omelette (£4.25); home beer battered fish fingers (£4.65); and beef meatballs in a tomato sauce (£4.50).
They recommend 3-4 dishes per person to share.
But it’s not just the location and the food which makes the Riverside special - although all the produce is locally sourced, with meat from the local butcher, and eggs from the local farm.
The service was exceptional.
We were looked after by a brilliant young waitress and waiter, Chloe and Hayden - who was coping supremely well with his first evening on duty.
At its heart, though, it is a family enterprise.
While Francesca is a sublime host, her daughter Charlie runs the kitchen.
Meanwhile, look out for Grandpa John’s chilli jam and courgette chutney which have gained their own celebrity culinary status in the area!
All sounds too good to be true?
Well don’t just take our word for it. Customers have been singing the Riverside restaurant and cafe’s praises too on independent websites. Like the recent comment: “We’d been meaning to try the tapas here for ages and finally got round to it on a perfect summer’s evening. We had a great table in the garden, overlooking the river and with the beautiful countryside and downs completing the view. Service was really excellent. Attentive, friendly and efficient. The tapas were very pleasant.”
These tales from the riverbank should encourage you to visit very soon! We will be back for more.
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