The lifetime achievement award: we honour Ruthie Rogers in The UK’s Top New Restaurant Awards

Written by Travel Adventures

“I don’t consider The River Café hard work,” says Ruthie Rogers, chef proprietor of The River Café and winner of the lifetime achievement award. “It’s my home and family. I’m the luckiest person in the world to work here.” Typically warm and modest words from a deeply warm and modest woman. Because Ruthie Rogers is one of the true legends of London eating, the New Yorker who married Richard Rogers, the late, great architect. And, alongside her late friend and partner Rose Grey, she turned what was a tiny café for her husband’s staff into one of the world’s most revered restaurants.

It’s not just the consistent excellence of her regional Italian food, and a menu (handwritten daily) that sits in utter thrall to the seasons. “I always cook the same way,” she explains over an espresso in the restaurant’s private dining room, “either at home (and I cook a lot at home) or work. Simple, consistent, with the best ingredients I can find.” Or the legions of famous chefs who have trained under her, from Jamie Oliver and April Bloomfield to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Stevie Parle, Sam Clark and Theo Randall. In terms of British culinary influence, The River Café is up there with Le Gavroche and Bibendum.

The River Caf London

The River Café, London

Nor is it the best-selling collection of books that have become part of the culinary lexicon or the endless cavalcade of A-listers – from Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Michael Caine, Gwyneth Paltrow and Harrison Ford to Tina Fey, Emily Blunt and Al Gore – who treat it as their home from home. No, what makes The River Café so different is Ruthie herself – she is its heart and soul. And comes in almost every day – on the pass, tasting the sauces, inspecting the pasta, checking the produce, and talking to her two executive head chefs, Joe Trivelli and Sian Wyn Owen. Or discussing the day’s guests and seating with her long-standing front-of-house team, led by the brilliant Charles Pullan, along with Vashti Armit and Tom Downer. At The River Café, everything starts and ends with Ruthie.

But despite that smile, the soft voice, the fundamental serenity, she has a presence that easily fills her light, bright, loftily ceilinged room. And as she wanders through the tables, greeting regulars and newcomers alike, every eye is always upon her. But for all her warmth, her loyalty to both friends and staff alike, and her kindness to all comers, cross her at your peril. She may be universally adored, but you don’t stay at the top for nearly 40 years by being a pushover. To be a great chef-proprietor is to be both a businesswoman and diplomat, a consoler-in-chief, inspiration, ingredient-obsessive, matriarch and boss. It’s also bloody hard work and has been from the very start.

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