Ruth Rogers

Ruth Rogers

‘When we started the restaurant it was very Tuscan-based – it was what we knew and some of us had family there,’ says Ruth. ‘But then we started to get to know more about the other parts of Italy. We’d visit Piedmont to learn about the wine, naturally picking up on the polenta and local cuisine there. We’d journey down south to Puglia and see the vegetables and tuna and chickpeas, or learn about Ligurian cuisine during other trips. Tuscany has always been at the heart of The River Cafe but we’ve spread out over the years. Someone once said they see The River Cafe as its own extra little region of Italy, as we have our own identity now, which I really like.’

Today, The River Cafe continues to be an institution for both those in the industry and those who eat there. When Rose passed away in 2010, Ruth stayed on as the sole owner and figurehead of the restaurant, surrounded by an incredible team who have worked there for years (a relatively rare thing for professional chefs to do). Famous names have earned their stripes in the kitchen – The River Cafe is where a young Jamie Oliver was noticed by a TV crew – and access to produce has become increasingly better, in turn improving the offering.

‘We respect every chef that works here as an individual,’ explains Ruth. ‘When they come for an interview we want to get to know them – what do they like to cook, which cookbooks do they own, what are they curious about? A good chef has to work well as part of a team and of course has to have a deep passion when it comes to food, but you’re only going to get the best out of them if they enjoy coming to work every day. I want to come here every day and so did Rose, so it only makes sense that we make sure everyone else does too. It’s why we take all the chefs to Italy each year, and try to make every day in the kitchen different. You might not know which section you’ll be working on or what the menu will be each morning when you come into work; until you prep the sea bass, you might not have decided whether it will be grilled or roasted. I think this, combined with the open kitchen with all the natural light, makes our restaurant a nice one to work in.’

When the coronavirus lockdown hit in 2020, like many other restaurants The River Cafe launched an ‘at home’ offering. However, in true River Cafe style, Ruth and the team went and launched a full online shop, selling produce, ingredients, meals and even homewares. ‘We had to learn a lot very quickly, but we had time to develop a proper website during the lockdown and give it a real professional clarity thanks to our photographer and designer,’ she says. ‘Eighteen months ago I’d never have imagined we’d launch an online shop, but it just goes to show how much things can change.’