The River Cafe is not a cafe at all, though it is memorably located by the river Thames at Hammersmith, the opposite side of the river from the Harrods Depository. On the downside, it’s hell on wheels to find if you haven’t been there before, located as it is at the back end of a maze of residential streets, though very close to the Richard Rogers architectural practice (Ruth Rogers being one of the partners who owned and ran the restaurant from its 1987 opening, along with the late Rose Grey), and not far from Charing Cross hospital – not that you will need A&E after a visit to this beautiful and engaging restaurant.
However, since planning restrictions stipulated that all diners must leave by 11pm (though you get a stay of execution to 11:20 on Fridays and Saturdays!), you would be well advised to book an early time and enjoy watching the sun go down on the Thames as you eat. The night we went was a just such a summer evening, and about as idyllic as London gets. I can’t imagine a more charming location, nor indeed more charming service – possibly excepting The Ivy.
The River Cafe spawned the career of many now illustrious chefs, not least Jamie Oliver, but sticks to the same basic ingredients for its success: top quality ingredients, many imported from Italy and many more sourced from top suppliers (some veg and leaves come from their own garden); inspiring dishes based on artisan Italian recipes, mostly simple and elegant combinations cooked with the aid of a charcoal grill and a wood oven to provide genuine flavour; and an element of panache about the whole experience, an ambience, as Gabriel Byne’s character in the Usual Suspects puts it, not painted on the walls.
I can recall opening the evening’s account with a glass of prosecco, then eating grilled squid with chilli, chargrilled lamb steak and a whole lot more, but the abiding memory of well-being at the River Cafe lingers far longer than that of the highly steep bill. Ultimately, some things are worth paying for, and to eat at least once in your life at the River Cafe is unquestionably one of them. Bliss!