The Sacco brothers grew up working in their parents’ restaurant, Piccolo Lago, in Piedmont, Italy, and today
they have two Michelin stars to their name. Carlo Sacco is the one who doesn’t cook while Marco Sacco is the
chef, and together they are attempting to recreate Michelin magic in Beijing with The River Club. Most of the
classic design and construction comes from Italy, but the garish fluorescent
lighting might be a local
adjustment. Let’s hope they
find a better light bulb, and
The shiny gadgetdecked kitchen includes a fancy hardwood grill for steaks and one vegetarian grilled option. Diners are graced with set menus paired with wine. The a
la carte menu has more specific choices including melting cubes of black cod with a perfect bagna cauda, that has all the right anchovy notes. A shard of dried asparagus cracks nicely as a
garnish, but the caramelised banana, however gorgeous, is the strangest addition in terms of taste and texture. The tomato terrine with eggplant
comes with a couple of short stacks of mozzarella and tomato. But the tomatoes don’t taste the way tomatoes
should, and this is the fallacy of the dish – the lack of a good vital ingredient. The tag-along ricotta straw is crisp as a potato chip and we wish there was stack of them instead.
Middle courses prove demanding on your stomach, so it’s an opportune time to share. An off-the-menu special
of spaghetti with roasted shrimp, chillies and a red pepper sauce is too salty and sent back. Graciously, a new
one arrives with thinner spaghetti – a laudible effort from the kitchen to make us happy. The shrimp appear
poached, not roasted. It’s perfectly fine pasta, but at 136RMB some may find
it a little pricey. Don’t miss the osso bucco that’s disguised in the menu as Milanstyle risotto. Those who appreciate risotto cooked to its finest with a slight firmness
and creamy texture that transcends a gentle waft of saffron will be delighted. Tender veal chunks surround a shank bone requiring you to dirty your fingers and spoon out precious marrow.
Although full, we were coaxed into the carp in red wine, a signature dish of Piccolo Lago. Coarsely chopped carp is simmered in red wine and topped with minced celery and carrot – a deconstructed fishy bolognese.
It’s served on top of a potato purée that’s imbued with milk, something of a drunken shepherd’s pie. It was delicious.
You are forced to make it to dessert, a miniature of everything from tiramisu to a very soft panna cotta, ginger crème brulée, and more, a bevy of classics. For the finale, crisp fried dough which has different names in different parts of Europe is served like at carnivale. We weren’t charged for dessert, a merciful gift, especially since it wasn’t optional.
Dinner at the River
Club could easily break your bank.
It’s worth mentioning that bottled water racks up the bill at 90RMB for a bottle of San Pellegrino fizz (apparently, we had two but were never asked if we wanted a second bottle). In a time of world financial crisis, The River Club will have to rely on expense account holders and the batch of new wealthy Chinese, unless you go for lunch when there are deals to be had.