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River Cafe Cookbook

Author: Rose Gray and Ruth Rodgers


The River Cafe Cookbook was somewhat controversial when it came out. Despite the fact that the River Cafe in Hammersmith, from where the book originates, is essentially a high quality Italian restaurant focussed on serving the very best of Italian farmhouse cooking (cucina rusticana), some of the recipes were seen as extraordinarily complicated and far beyond the range of the average cook. I remember when it was published that newspaper features pages were full of articles about people

The first thing to say about the book is that (for its time) it looks extremely attractive. The black and white photographs and clean layout are early examples of the cookbook as art rather than simply as a means of communicating recipes. The photographs of Johnny Pigozzi have been much imitated since then. 

Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers (who is married to the architect Richard Rogers, who since 1981 has been Lord Rogers) set up the River Cafe in 1987 and quickly became part of the London restaurant scene. This was their first cookbook and while the food is largely Tuscan peasant food, the sourcing of ingredients and preparation of many of the recipes is tough for those who do not have a good range of suppliers or a kitchen brigade to help them out. More than most cookbooks that come out of restaurants, especially one that purports to offer 'simple food', this feels more like a book to be browsed by those interested in cooking rather than as a primer to be used to actually prepare dishes in your kitchen.

Typical dishes include Cannellini Bean Soup, Pappardelle with Hare, Ricotta and Spinach Gnocchi. Grilled Langoustine with Fennel and Chilli Sauce and Chocolate Nemesis, which is described as 'the best chocolate cake ever'.

I have to confess that I rarely use the River Cafe Cookbook these days and many of my friends who have it (and cook regularly) admit that they do not either. That is not to say it is not an enjoyable read - it is - but rather that for those who want to cook rather than watch, there are better books out there.


Ebury Press, 1995, £25, 318 pages (hardback)


Joe Saumarez Smith (11 April, 2007)

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