A tribute to London’s celebrated River Cafe

By Marguerite Winter

In London, one of our first culinary ports of call is the celebrated River Café, still looking schmick from a 2008 refurbishment that plays up the simple, clean lines of the light filled-room Sir Richard Rogers created as a staff canteen adjoining his architectural practice in 1987.

It wasn’t long before the world and his gourmand wife were making their way to the restaurant that Rose Gray and Roger’s wife Ruth created at this now hallowed site alongside the Thames at Hammersmith, from where their food revolutionised Italian cooking in Britain and their subsequent six cookbooks gave the kitchen an international following.

Pale spring sunshine is falling on the diners, among them a party that includes Ruth and her husband, as we lunch here on this early Spring Monday. We have come to honour the memory of Rose Gray who died in 2010 at the age of 71.

An aperitivo of Prosecco and blood orange juice with a slither of chickpea and raddichio farinata (crisp pancake) opens the meal, as we peruse a menu that revels in the freshness, seasonality and simplicity that are Gray’s hallmarks.

Chicory and rocket is braised in a 2012 Selvapiano olive oil; nettles accompany the buffalo ricotta ravioli; a Donnaluna fiano bathes the clams; chunks of turbot with capers, marjoram and lemon emerge from the big orange wood oven that dominates the space; the sea bass is roasted with Italian spinach and artichokes ‘alla Romagna’, a pork leg in Chianti.

Other glorious accompaniments include Castelluccio lentils, Risina beans, roasted polenta, Swiss chard and peas under oil. It’s enough to remind you that the River Café is one of its great high altars to that symbol of abundance and nourishment, the cornucopia, which is, appropriately, an Italian word.


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