Ruth Rogers, who forms with her husband Lord Richard Rogers -architect of the Pompidou Centre and the Millenium Dome- half of the most notable “power couples” in London, opened The River Café in 1987. Holder of one Michelin star since 1998, the restaurant has trained chefs like Jamie Oliver while becoming the unofficial canteen for London’s most prominent personalities. Here, Ruth, who was recently appointed a Member of the British Empire by the Queen, talks to Chic-Londres about the “cucina rustica” and her favourite places to buy and eat food.
When did you start your career as a chef?I opened The River Café with Rose Gray, my business partner and great friend, in 1987. Neither of us was a professional trained chefs and we only ever cooked for your own family and friends. But we both had spent a lot of time in Italy and knew we wanted to cook the kind of food we only ever had in Italian homes and that you couldn’t find at the time in London, like simple grilled meat and fish, much simpler than the kind of heavy dishes then on offer.
How would you describe the British approach to food and how its recent evolution?For a long time, the British seemed really underexposed to European continental food, while the old British culinary tradition all but disappeared, so the offer had become quite bad. Then, with the ascent of cheap airlines, they discovered how much they enjoyed food from France, Spain or Italy, and started to focus more on this kind of fresh, seasonal style of cooking. People also realised that eating out didn’t have to be formal, but that really good food could be served in a relaxed environment.
How do you describe you restaurant’s culinary style?Everything we do is Italian, from olive oil to ice cream to pasta, and all our ingredients come from Italy. The only exception are fish, which come from the Atlantic, but are the same types -mullet, sea bass, turbot, sardines- that can be found in the Mediterranean. Also, all our dishes are seasonal: for example, you will never find any tomato on the menu after September. In terms of style, it has evolved from home cooking to something more sophisticated and refined, based on a small menu with three fish, three meat, four pasta and antipasti.
Do you have a « signature » dish?I would say the Nemesis, which is our flourless and sugarless chocolate cake, as well as the grilled chilli calamari.
What defines a good chef in your opinion?A good chef has to have passion, discipline and curiosity, and must be very sensitive to taste, which is something both inherited and learnt. I grew up in a family where food was important, but not sophisticated, and it is only when my husband did the Pompidou Centre in 1971 and we went to live in Paris for five years that food became a passion: my taste really evolved then, as I was so much more exposed to food than I ever was before.
Where do you buy the following in London?
- Cheese : La Fromagerie.
- Wine : Lea & Sanderman
- Bread : Poilâne
- Cakes: I never buy cakes as I always get them from the River Café.
- Meat : HG Walter
- Deli products : Luigi’s
- Fruits and vegs : Natoora
Which are your favourite London’s restaurants apart from yours?I love St John, because I Iove its chef singular and very personal approach to cooking. I also enjoy very much the atmosphere at The Wolseley, where I like to meet with friends. I also really like Marc Hix’s restaurant, especially for the beautiful meats, as well as Rowley Leigh at Le Café Anglais and Sally Clarke at Clarke’s.
What is your favourite dish and is there anything you really dislike?There is nothing I dislike, while my favourite at the moment is the ribollita, a Tuscan soup made of bread and beans.
What culinary advice do you like to give?Always cook some seasonal food and take the time to go to the market and see what is on offer before you decide what to make.
Ruth’s Foodie Addresses in London
The River Café: Thames Walk, Rainville Road, W6 (Hammersmith)
La Fromagerie : 2-6 Moxon Street, W1 (Marylebone)
Lea & Sandeman : 211 Kensington Church Street, W8 (Notting Hill Gate). Other branches in Chelsea and Barnes.
Poilâne: 46 Elizabeth Street, SW1 (Victoria)
HG Walter: 51 Palliser Road, W14 (Baron’s Court)
Luigi’s Delicatessen: 349 Fulham Road, SW10 (Gloucester Road)
St John Bar & Restaurant: 26 St. John Street, EC1 (Farringdon, Barbican)
The Wolseley: 160 Piccadilly, W1 (Green Park)
Hix Oyster and Chop House: 36-37 Greenhill Rents, , EC1 (Farringdon, Barbican)
Le Café Anglais: Whiteley’s Shopping Centre, 8 Porchester Gardens, W2 (Bayswater, Queesway)
Clarke’s: 124 Kensington Church Street, W8 (Notting Hill Gate)