What’s In A Name?

Peter James is magnetised by lunch at Riddle and Finns Champagne and Oyster Bar

What’s in a restaurant’s name?  I think quite a lot actually.  Names conjure up images and expectations.  Hotel du Vin I’ve always thought is very clever, because it hints of a hotel full of joie de vivre and a bit of naughtiness.  Similarly, Havana, hints of something sultry, something exotic.  Fishy Fishy is rather – well fishy – but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed eating there.

Probably the worst name I know is a joint close to my London home in Notting Hill called “The Bloody French.”  I’ve never set foot in there and I don’t intend to.  It may be utterly brilliant – not that I’ve any particular reason to think that – but I don’t care if it is.

I dread sitting down and looking at a menu brimming with Franglais puns, as I assume might be the case here.  The name gives me no expectations at all other than mediocrity with cringing humour.  I don’t go out to eat for either of those things.  And besides I like the French a lot.

I find them, on the whole, charming, courteous, fun and with a passion for food unmatched by many other countries.  So to enter a restaurant called The Bloody French, would be to make a statement I don’t actually subscribe to.

Now The Fat Duck, on the other hand, gives a totally different image.  What could be more enticing to many of us than the prospect of eating a fat duck?  Especially with crispy skin and a sweet sauce.  If you should find yourselves in Bray and want a truly great dining experience, Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant will do you proud.

He’s a man who knows how to manage expectations.  Simple restaurant name, makes you smile, makes you hungry.  Gives just a tiny clue to the happy atmosphere of the temple of gastronomy and hedonism beyond its doors.  Allow several hours, go there starving and come away with a massive smile.

They know a thing or two about service – our waiter even emailed me the following day to thank us for coming!  But I have to admit to imbibing rather a lot – and I cannot remember whether duck was even on the 12-course menu that day or not…

Riddle and Finns bills itself as a Champagne and Oyster Bar and operates a strictly no reservations policy.  The name is odd but rather endearing, sort of aquatic in a miss-spelt way, unless it is owned by someone from Finland, which it isn’t.  It was that miserable genius, Evelyn Waugh’s brother, Auberon, a travel and food journalist, who wrote dismissively, years ago that, “The first thing any Englishman does when arriving abroad is to look for the nearest queue and join it.”

I share his pathological hatred of queuing.  No one ever looks good standing in a queue, especially in the rain, and even worse when hungry, and there are a few if any properly constructive things to do in a queue, other than wishing you weren’t in it.

Queuing demeans us and steals one of our most precious commodities, time.  Further, once you are inside, you know you will be processed as quickly as possible, maximum money taken off you in the minimum of time, so you can be shoved back out the door and the next sodden punters reeled in.  I don’t like multiple sitting restaurants either, which tell you that you have to vacate your table by a certain time.

Fortunately, through lunching there with one of its former shareholders, Mike Holland, we didn’t have to queue on our visit, and indeed on a busy Friday lunchtime they seemed to have the balance pretty much right.  I like this place a lot and I’ve eaten here a few times in the past.

It reminds me of a number of old-established City of London restaurants, and I almost expect to find sawdust on the floor when I enter.  It’s an intimate, comfortable place, where you sit up at stalls and where you instantly feel you are in a place that knows exactly what it is doing and what its punters want – indulgent, quality food from the sea, to be washed down with equally indulgent wines.


The sign Champagne and Oyster Bar acts as much a magnet to me as The Bloody French does a repellent.  And the menu delivers.  There is a good selection of quality oysters and even better, a terrific range of preparations, including two of my favourite cooked styles, Kilpatrick and Rockefeller.

Light bites and starters include another favourite, done with a deft touch here, New England Clam Chowder, Monkfish Cheek Tempura, Brighton Scallops (hooray for local produce), Riddle and Finns Ceviche, Whitebait and the now ubiquitous Squid with Chorizo priced from a very reasonable £5.75 to £12.95.

There is a good assortment of shellfish, including Whole Gambas, and a platter of Fruits de Mer with either fresh Crab or Lobster, and mains include a Squid and Shellfish Risotto, Keralan Fish Curry, Riddle and Finns Bouillabaisse – properly made and richly filling – and a delicious and delicately flavoured wok-fried crab.

As well as seafood salads and three good vegetarian alternatives – available as starters or very reasonably priced mains – around the £12 mark, there is a short selection of very well made desserts and cheeses.  As with all seafood restaurants you can spend modestly on main at £13.50 or splash out on the lobster seafood platter at £45 – and you can down as many oysters as takes your fancy at a fair £2.20 each.

There is, as its name hints, a fine Champagne list and an excellent – no-nonsense list of white and red wines, including a wine that has been long out of fashion and is now deservedly making its way back onto lists, a dry white Bordeaux.

I came away and realized I’d forgotten to ask what Riddles and Finns actually stood for.  But hey, it will be good having an excuse to go back – not that I feel this place needs one.  It’s great.


Riddle & Finns Champagne and Oyster Bar
12b Meeting House Lane

Tel: 01273 721667
Web: www.riddleandfinns.co.uk