Tuscany on Thames

It has been called Tuscany on the Thames....
This iconic Italian restaurant in London, fired up its stoves and opened its doors in 1987 as a lunch canteen for the architects upstairs.37 years in business is quite an achievement, when the UK hospitality sector declines at its fastest pace since lockdown.Hospitality businesses across the UK are facing record breaking food price inflation,soaring energy bills,rising interest rates,difficulties recruiting and increases in their wage bills, the cost of living crisis,reduction in consumer spending and transport strikes restricting people´s ability to travel.The government has offered zero sector specific support.Restaurant insolvencies continue to increase.When one Michelin starred door opens another closes it seems. But this river bank bastion of high end Italian food keeps the flood gates from breaking.
It is something that can not be denied that Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray’s River Cafe has shaped the way we eat now.The River Cafe was built on Girl Power and egg tagliarini.It has launched the careers of countless chefs including Jamie Oliver, Theo Randall, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Ed Baines and the two Sam Clarks of London’s Moro to name but a few. Set in a former oil warehouse in out- of-the-way Hammersmith,West london it might have been in its heyday the best restaurant in London. In 1996, The New Yorker even declared that it might be the best Italian restaurant in the whole of Europe.

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.

One of my most regularly cooked dishes  
and beloved recipes 
from The River Cafe Cook Book 
Penne con Pomodoro e Acciughe
Penne with Tomato and anchovy sauce

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.


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