The River Cafe,
The River Cafe,
In 1987, chefs Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray opened The River Cafe on the banks of the Thames in London’s Hammersmith neighborhood. Initially, it served as the employee canteen for Ruth’s husband’s (Richard Rogers) architectural practice.
Since then, they have grown into one of the most iconic and loved restaurants in London. The New Yorker even referred to it as the best Italian restaurant in Europe! I came by and spoke with Chef Sian Wyn Own and manager Charles Pullan about the staff meal and some unique rituals of The River Cafe.
Everyone works here together as a team. Before service, the waiters even help the kitchen with elements of their prep duties, like pitting the olives. This helps to create the sense of community between the front at the back of house and understanding each other’s jobs and chores, and helps allow the waiters to be able to speak more efficiently to the customers about the food, as they have also played a part in creating the meal.
The first staff meal is a small meal for people on single shift and some office workers. They also make any allergy or food requests before it is prepared. The small meal is served up by the kitchen in single serving settings and the staff member’s name is marked on the plate if they have had any special requests. The big staff meal is served around 45 minutes after, and this is for all the kitchen staff and the workers on a double shift. The porters get to eat first and everyone else follows. We typically eat outside by the river, but today the weather is miserable, so we are eating in the private dining room.
For the second staff meal we usually do a couple of pots of pasta and serve up the food left from the lunch service. We want the staff to be able to try what we serve the customers and also get to taste the flavors and understand the food better.
Twice a week a van arrives with produce we have sourced directly from the Farmers Market in Milan. We want to make sure we have the best produce possible, which is why we go to the source. We change the menu twice a day, and we base it on what we are feeling with what we have in season. We know we do something really special here and we want this experience to be the best way our customers could possibly spend their money.
When The River Cafe opened, Ruth’s husband Richard Rogers had his architecture practice next door, and all the staff would come there and eat with us every day. So there really was family and an extended family at the family meal. Today we still offer a special set menu to all the office workers nearby to come and join us. No one ever gets their food to go, they always want to stay and eat it here.