The River Cafe was founded by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray in 1987 and is still going strong. Off the top of my head I cannot think of any restaurant that has lasted so long under the same ownership. More surprisingly is that it has done so with an unpromising location in Rainville Road, SW6 between Hammersmith and Fulham Football Club. It’s a good 30 minute taxi journey to central London and not that accessible by other transport.
Yet yesterday every table was taken and as we left at 2-15 there were diners queuing for a table. What is the secret of its success? The first is the food is very good. I had a artichoke salad with honey, fennel and aoili sauce which was a perfect appetiser. This was followed by wild sea bass with pesto. The pesto sauce is a perfect foil for sea bass and it was scrumptious. The second is its lay-out. There is a long serving area with the cooks behind it. This must have been from the days when it was a Rogers staff canteen. The interior dining space looks out over garden tables to the river, a distinctive view for London. It reminded me of Cipriani in Torcello the island off Venice. On a warm early spring day my host and I felt at ease with the world. The service by youngish waitresses was efficient.
The only downside of the River Cafe is the pricing. Starters are £15-20 and mains £35-40. Their divine deserts and a decent bottle of wine will take the bill to £100 per person but as I was not paying I can say it’s worth it!!! I like to people-watch and this was a rich, arty media eclectic crowd: men who wore scarves loosely whilst dining, a beautiful blonde woman in a loose sweater who seemed terribly famous though I did not recognise her; a Japanese couple carefully feeding their little one. I would say it’s more popular with advertising moguls than hedge fund managers. In my bad old, good old, days the art director of J Walter Thompson would take Daffers to lunch there and neither of us made it back to the office in the afternoon though Piers claimed he thought up many a campaign image admiring the ceiling of an Earls Court hotel or was it me!!!!
It’s an expensive restaurant but it’s Italian cuisine is as good as anything you would find in central London and factor in a lively ambience, spacious locale and you have a memorable gastronomic experience.