For those of us in the restaurant trade with white hair and the eligibility for a free bus pass, it seems like only yesterday that the River Cafe blazed onto the London scene. The restaurant’s site in Hammersmith was nice enough, but not close to the exciting clusters of restaurants in Soho or Kensington that had sprung up at the same time. Just like Marco Pierre White’s Harveys in Wandsworth, the River Cafe required a special journey. Unless, of course, you were top architect Richard Rogers – Mr Ruth Rogers – whose business operated from the offices above.
Italian food started to make a real impact 30 years ago. Before that, waiters with giant peppermills served OK but uninspiring pollo alla cacciatore in restaurants with an old Chianti fiasco on the table, with a candle stuck in it by way of romantic atmosphere. There were great Italian cookery books, of course, by Marcella Hazan and our own Elizabeth David, for instance.
It seems crazy that people like Ruth Rogers and Alastair Little were trailblazing Italian food rather than actual Italians, but in the days before Gennaro Contaldo, Francesco Mazzei and Giorgio Locatelli, there were few champions in the UK. My current perch, the Walnut Tree, had Franco Taruschio cooking dishes from his Marche region for an adoring audience, and Mauro Bregoli in Romsey, Hampshire, had a great following. But these were exceptions rather than the rule.
The River Cafe alumni include Jamie Oliver, April Bloomfield, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Sam and Sam Clarke from Moro. I’m confident the current crew will be just as successful.
This book is an extension of the initial River Cafe cookbook, featuring the original recipes plus some more. The photography is informative rather than alluring. Recipes include the famous chocolate nemesis as well as Ligurian fish stew, veal shin slow-cooked with Barolo and sage, and all the wonderful gnocchi, pasta and risotto dishes you would expect.
If you don’t have the original book, you need to own this. Personally, I’m happy to have both.
By Shaun Hill, chief-proprietor, the Walnut Tree, Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire
If you liked this, you may enjoy these
Italian Kitchen by Anna del Conte
My Simple Italian by Theo Randall
The Classic Italian Cookbookby Marcella Hazan
River Cafe 30 (Ebury Press, £28)