River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray

River Cafe 30

River Cafe 30 commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most influential restaurants in London. Before Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray opened what was a nine table lunchtime-only canteen for the architects and designers who work in the converted Thames Wharf warehouse in Hammersmith that houses the restaurant, there were only fake trattorias serving generic Italian fare. The River Cafe introduced the notion of regional Italian cooking to the UK; of new season’s olive oil, cavalo nero, Tuscan bread soups, hand made pasta and the infamous flour-less Chocolate Nemesis cake, a recipe that no home cook it seemed could master, me included.

Taken purely as a collection of recipes, there is much to recommend River Cafe 30. This is simple, delicious, ingredient-led food requiring, in most cases, minimal skill from the home cook. If you can’t afford the premier league Italian produce that the restaurant’s reputation stands and falls by, then you’ll still derive a huge amount of pleasure from knocking up dishes like linguine with crab; spinach and ricotta gnocchi and pork cooked in milk. The ‘salsa’ chapter alone could transform your repertoire with killer sauces like bagnet made with capers, anchovies, bread, parsley, garlic, eggs, vinegar and oil.

However, this is not a book for the faint of wallet. The basic pasta recipe requires 13 eggs and that chocolate cake, one of a number of recipes recycled from the restaurant’s famous ‘blue’ cookbook from 1995, calls for well over half a kilo of ‘best quality’ dark chocolate. Follow River Cafe 30 to the letter and you’ll be bankrupt and homeless, although you will have a bit of extra fat to live off before you have to sell your extra virgin olive-oiled body to the night.

River Cafe 30 is a beautiful object with a vivid colour scheme inspired by the restaurant’s bright pink wood-fired oven, yellow pass and blue carpet. There are reproductions of menus drawn or painted on by artist fans that include Cy Twombly, Peter Doig, Damien Hirst and Michael Craig Martin along with evocative black and white photography depicting life in River Cafe’s open kitchen (one of the first in the country) and a moving tribute to the late Rose Gray by Ruth Rogers.

But where is the celebration of the countless chefs that have passed through The River Cafe’s kitchen? Not one word about Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall or Theo Randall, to name but three of the most high profile alumni. Three decades of culinary history are condensed into two brief pages of text plus some architectural drawings, a sample of one of the first menus and an article published in the New Yorker magazine in 1996.

Recipe introductions are sparse with little information about why dishes have been singled out for inclusion, their regional derivation or how they fit into the restaurant’s history. There isn’t even so much as a hint of how to use all those salsas.

Despite high production values, there is more than a whiff of cash-in about River Cafe 30. No doubt it will sell by the bucket load, especially to special occasion diners in search of a memento (River Cafe remains an exceptional place in which to eat your tea), but I can’t help but feel that this is a missed opportunity to properly celebrate one of Britain’s true culinary landmarks.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

Buy this book
River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
Food Photography by Matthew Donaldson
£28 Ebury Press

Cook from this book
Mezze paccheri, black pepper and langoustine
Risotto al Amarone di Valpolicella
Veal shin slow cooked with Barolo and sage

Veal shin slow cooked with Barolo and sage by Ruth Rogers

veal shin with barolo and sage
Veal shin photographed by Matthew Donaldson

The longer this cooks the better – in the River Cafe we often serve this simply with bruschetta.

Serves 6-8

2 veal shins,  about  1.5kg each,  trimmed of excess fat extra virgin olive oil
a bunch  of fresh  sage leaves
4 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bottle  Barolo
250g peeled plum tomatoes from a jar, drained  of their juices

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Heat an ovenproof pot or flameproof casserole (that has a lid) over a high heat. Meanwhile, season the shins generously with sea salt and black pepper. Carefully add 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and the shins to the hot pot and fry until golden brown all over, turning the shins every few minutes.

Add the sage leaves, bay leaves and garlic. Sizzle for a few seconds, then pour
in the wine. Arrange the shins so the exposed bone side is facing down. Add the tomatoes, broken up a little. Cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and then the lid. Transfer the pot to the oven.

After 1 hour, turn the shins over and reduce the oven temperature to 150°C. Cover the pot again and cook for a further 2 hours, basting the shins with the roasting liquid a couple of times to keep the meat moist. The veal shins are ready when the meat threatens to fall away from the bone. Serve with the marrow from the bone and some of the roasting liquid.

Extracted from
River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
£28 Ebury Press

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Risotto al Amarone di Valpolicella by Ruth Rogers

risotto amarone di valpolicella
Risotto photographed by Matthew Donaldson

300ml Chicken Stock
150g unsalted butter, softened
1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped
1 head celery, washed and finely chopped
300g risotto rice
750ml Amarone di Valpolicella wine
150g Parmesan, freshly grated a little double cream (optional)
sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Heat the Chicken Stock and check for seasoning. Melt two-thirds of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pan and gently fry the onion and celery for about 20 minutes or until light brown. Add the rice and stir to coat with butter.

Increase the heat and gradually pour in 500ml of the wine, slowly letting the wine be absorbed by the rice. Then add the hot stock, ladle by ladle, stirring all the time and only adding more stock when the rice has absorbed the previous addition.

When all the stock has been absorbed and the rice is almost cooked, gradually add the remaining wine, stirring. The rice will have taken on the colour of the wine.

Add half the Parmesan and the remaining butter or a little cream and season, taking care not to overstir. Serve with the rest of the Parmesan and a drizzle of cream on top, if using.

Extracted from
River Cafe 30 by River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
£28 Ebury Press

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Mezze paccheri, black pepper and langoustine by Ruth Rogers

mezze paccheri langoustine
Mezze paccheri, black pepper and langoustine photographed by Matthew Donaldson

In a world of rules, including the seminal one that you must never  put cheese on a fish pasta,  this eccentric recipe combining Pecorino and langoustines commits the cardinal sin. It is incredibly delicious and proves that rules are made to be broken.

Serves 6

600g mezze paccheri
60g unsalted butter
150g Pecorino, freshly grated, plus extra for grating on top
360g medium langoustines (4–5 langoustines per person), cooked and peeled
about 20g coarsely ground black pepper

Cook the mezze paccheri pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. When draining the pasta, reserve some of the cooking water for the sauce.  Melt the butter with the Pecorino in a separate large pan over a low heat,  using some of the reserved pasta water to create a sauce.

Cut the langoustines into pieces and add to the Pecorino sauce with black pepper to taste. Add the hot cooked pasta and mix until you have a glossy  sauce coating the pasta, adding more  reserved pasta water if needed.

Extracted from
River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
£28 Ebury Press

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