When Ruth Rogers was recently on Desert Island Discs the one thing she omitted to say about her River Cafe is the size of the price of the dishes. First courses come at £20 mains £35-40. My host, a charmer from the property world, had 5 pieces of ravioli – gold ingots would have been cheaper. However sitting outside on a glorious late summer’s day and partaking of such excellent food is one of the great delights known to woman – or this one in the absence of any current others !!! It reminded me of lunch many years ago when I was seduced by an old roué of a Venetian aristocrat after a leisurely lunch al fresco at Cipriani on the Isle of Torcello.
Yesterday I went for a sea food risotto and then wild sea bass. In both cases the sauces were deliciously light and flavoursome. Sauce can be a tricky one: too heavy such as the traditional British gloopy gravy can envelope the dish, too light can be a superfluous accompaniment. This was correctly positioned in the middle.
The other thing to note about the River Cafe and its enduring success over 30 years is the inconvenience of its location. It is situated in that rather desolate area between Hammersmith and Fulham football club. It must take – it did us – 30 minutes to reach the centre but this has not deterred the media types that have been flocking there over the years. One such a good advertising friend of mine even had his wedding there some 23 years ago. Sea bass was served and I have eaten this every time I have visited since.
My property friend pointed out that houses overlooking Bishops Park now sell for north of £5m and the smaller ones in the roads off the River Cafe for £1.5m. We both indulged in that familiar game of “if only” as we recalled failed bids for a tenth of these sums and lunches at the River Cafe 25 years ago. Now you would need to be a property millionaire to afford a meal there!! It’s definitely establishhed itself since the days it was a Duckham oil storage depot and Lord Rogers redesigned it for his employees’ cafeteria. Cleverly what must have been the queueing station is now an open area onto the kitchen. It’s a slick operation with the cookery books but to be fair a number of well known chefs like Sam Clark of Moro and Jamie Oliver of everywhere have earned their craft at those kitchens. I can hardly think of a restaurant of 1987 that has lasted so well but cheap it isn’t.