Tuscany on Thames
It has been called Tuscany on the Thames....
Like it or not none of us can escape the fact that it has touched all of our lives in some way. Watching Jamie Oliver on the TV or making a recipe from one of his books. Reading a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall column or being inspired by his brainchild The River Cottage. Maybe it was following step by step pasta making with Theo Randall. All these chefs have gone on to have careers that have become part of how we go about our cooking today.Back in the day, when I was embarking on my career in hospitality, Italian food in London meant dining out in Soho on “spag bol,” veal escalope, Chianti in straw-covered fiaschi. There was clearly a need in London, which apparently nobody else had noticed, for rustic, Tuscan-inspired food driven by a fanatical focus on top-quality seasonal ingredients, turned out with precision and brio, and presented in an environment designed by a globally lauded architect, Ruth Rogers husband Lord Rogers himself.
It has reinvented the industry’s expectations of how kitchens can be run. And it continues to create plate after plate of more or less perfect food, from its devastatingly simple pappa al pomodoro to its
coma-inducing Chocolate Nemesis.
When I ran the museum cafe at the Estorick Collection in Highbury, The Highbury and Islington Gazette, made a comparison of what we were achieving with that of the River cafe and wittily remarked that we "could produce a better quality boiled egg quicker than Ruth and Rose and at half the price".It has always been a favourite celebrity haunt and a popular choice for journalists who want to interview them over lunch. In the River Cafe of the imagination, Tracey Emin is plotting her next gallery show over the grilled squid with red chili while Michael Caine is over at his usual table tucking into a panna cotta. (Caine celebrated his 90th birthday at the restaurant in March.) Tina Fey and her kids are sharing plates of tagliarini with slow-cooked tomato sauce while Simon Schama is discoursing on the Dutch masters over favas and pancetta, Paul McCartney is enjoying a vegetarian feast ( which is not a contradiction at the River Cafe ), Edward Enninful is holding court among the fashion faithful with his ever lean loyal pal Naomi at his side and an equally well proportioned veal shank with Barolo in front of him. Meanwhile the river of its name continues to flow by outside.The River Café remains the benchmark for the hospitality industry. It’s a fabulous dining experience in a room that draws energy from the open plan kitchen, the efficiency of its small army of staff and the enthrallment of diners across all ages. It all adds up to make it a sublime people watching experience too. Ultimately, it’s about the food; provenance, best in class produce, seasonality and simplicity with absolutely no cutting corners. It’s just as it has always been and I imagine it will forever be.