The Modern Menu: Ruth Rogers cooks roast grouse and porcini mushrooms at The River Cafe
In 1987, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray opened restaurant The River Cafe in a former warehouse, adapted by Ruth’s husband, architect Richard Rogers, on the banks of the River Thames in Hammersmith.
Some things have changed since then, most notably in the passing of Rose in 2010 and numerous expansions and renovations to the building – all overseen by Richard – but the season-driven, masterfully-executed Italian fare has remained a constant.
In fact, consistency is what The River Cafe does best. After 30 years, publishing blockbusters to its name and a Michelin star under its belt, the restaurant still enjoys its long-held status as the go-to choice for the city’s architecture and design crowd, power-lunching bankers, in-town A-listers and the Christmas party location ne plus ultra.
In our series ‘The Modern Menu, we’re sitting down with chefs of our favourite restaurants to talk to them about their approach to cooking, from the dishes they make at home to how they run their professional kitchen. Here, Ruth tells us of her love for Italian food and shares a recipe for roast grouse and porcini mushrooms.
“Rose Gray, my late ex-partner, and I were two women who came from large families, and who both loved food, cooking and feeding people. When we told anyone those were the reasons we wanted to open a restaurant, they’d say, ‘no no no, don’t do it!’.
“It’s a big leap from enjoying cooking at home for your children and friends to having a restaurant. Rose had already slightly made that leap because she had worked in New York, helping Nell Campbell set up Nell’s, the nightclub.
“Richard and I had come back from Paris, where Richard had finished designing the Pompidou Centre. We didn’t want to buy a conventional office building in the centre of town, so we found these warehouses.
“I was a graphic designer at the time, not cooking professionally at all. I had never worked in a restaurant, except for as a waiter when I was 16. But I was cooking at home, had lived in Paris and Italy, and Richard’s mother was an incredible cook, so it was a real interest of mine.
“It was this site that really pushed Rose and me to make the leap to open a restaurant together. The warehouses had a real community of architects, designers, record producers, model makers and picture framers, and there was a need for them to have somewhere to eat.
“So, the process began of us opening a very small space, with very little money, serving very few people. We started small: one day I would do sandwiches and Rose would do pasta and we’d switch the next day.
“When I started working in the kitchen, I found that I loved cooking with a team of people; I think that’s what changed how I cook the most.
“When you cook in a professional kitchen, collaborating with other people is so stimulating, so exciting, because you learn and create together.
“Sometimes when I am cooking at home by myself I can get a bit lonely. That’s why Rose and I always had open-plan kitchens at home, so we could interact with friends and family while we cooked, and we continued that at The River Cafe, from day one.
“The last update to the interiors was in 2008. We had a fire that year and decided to really commit to the refurbishment, taking all the walls down, having a stand-alone wood oven, expanding the bar and creating a private dining room and better staff facilities.
“The dining room at The River Cafe reflects the way we live and the way we like to eat; you look at a plate of food here and it has a bit of drama, but there’s also nothing phoney about it.
“The idea of having an open kitchen is so that we can see people eating, they can see us cooking and it also means that the chefs work in a certain way: they’re polite, they don’t shout, and there are no tantrums.
“When we started, Italian restaurants in London weren’t serving the food we had eaten, cooked and loved in Italy – the Tuscan bread soups, Panzanella, northern Italian cuisine from Piedmont, the risottos – so we set out to bring it here.
“What’s changed is that people have become more interested in and curious about Italian cooking. The other massive shift is in the availability of produce and ingredients available.
“When Rose and I did our first book tour, every question went something like, ‘It’s very well for you to write salted anchovies into a recipe, but where are we going to get them?’. Now, those questions aren’t asked.
“I used to say to people that they should be angry consumers, that they should ask supermarkets why they have raspberries flown over in January but don’t have grapes in the right season. I think people are much more conscious of seasonality now.
“People always ask me what food I cook at home and I tell them I cook what I cook here. Everything I make at home I would make at The River Cafe, and vice versa; it’s kind of seamless.”
Ruth’s recipe for roast grouse with porcini mushrooms
For two people
4 sprigs thyme
8 sprigs sage
50g unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves
4 slices sourdough bread
300g fresh porcini mushrooms
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
With a soft brush, clean the mushrooms carefully. Make two cuts up the length of each stalk and place a piece of thyme and two thin slices of garlic in each. Season generously.
Heat a roasting pan until hot and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Put the porcini to the pan and roast for about 15 minutes or until soft and brown.
Stuff each grouse with two sprigs of thyme, one of sage and a knob of butter. Season inside and out. Put the grouse breast-side down in an oven tray. Drizzle over the olive oil and a glass of Chianti.
Roast for ten minutes, then turn the birds breast-side up and add a second glass of wine. Cook for a further ten minutes, basting with the wine juices. Add the remaining wine and butter, and roast for a further five minutes.
Grill the bread on both sides and rub each slice lightly with garlic.
Press each slice of bread, garlic side down, into the tray to soak up all the juices around the grouse and put on a warm plate. Place the grouse on top of the bread with the porcini and pour over the remaining juices to serve.
Making this at home? Show us the result using the hashtag #themodernhousemenu