This week I was very excited to be invited into the kitchen of one of my all time favourite restaurants, The River Café (London). It was set up by chefs (and best friends) Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. I always find it has a warm, friendly and bustling atmosphere. The menu is designed around quality, seasonal Italian produce. Rogers, the owner, explained to me a bit about the background of how this original restaurant idea came about. “The way we started with The River Café – Rose and I, we both had children and we wanted to run The River Café in a way like you run a domestic kitchen or home: very small and everyone that works here plays a role whether you are washing pots or answering phones, you are involved in the food. The waiters and receptionist come in and help prep the food, the mint, the parsley, the chillies etc. This way you get a waiter who is interested in food, they have a job that actually teaches them about the food. So when someone asks them what is in… for example the salsa verde they know because they helped make it.”
The chefs working in the kitchen that morning were very welcoming and I was impressed by the brilliant team work. I also got the feeling that they are friends as well as colleagues.
One thing that has always drawn me to The River Café is that the menu is so personal and handwritten. As a vegetarian I have found that the waiter is always happy to talk me through the best options for me on that day. Ruth described “It’s a short menu, we see what’s in the fridge, we see what’s been ordered and we see how many people are booked in.”
I sat with Sian Wyn Owen, Head Chef , as she was writing the menu for that day as she told me: “Because the menu changes for lunch and dinner we are able to reflect the season every day. Today is a nice bright sunny day, so you would eat differently today than you eat if it is freezing cold and more overcast (like last week) where you may crave more indulgent things like polenta. On a nice day like today I think people will crave more vegetables, which is an exciting way to work.”
I was luck enough to be shown two great vegetarian recipes that morning; Cavolo Nero Puree and Rotolo Di Spinaci.
I have written down what I can remember of the Cavolo Nero Puree and highly recommend it, similar to making a pesto, but packed with all the health benefits that Cavolo Nero possess. And the Rotolo Di Spinaci is much more involved, but great to try if you want to challenge yourself more in the kitchen, here is the recipe.
The River Café
London W6 9HA
+44 (0)20 7386 4200