River Café revisited!!
Whilst sipping their chilled prossecco on arrival, any member who wondered what the River Cafe was like in the 90’s—here was the answer. Spacious and airy, an exposed kitchen, and a happy and infectious atmosphere with great food. The idea, at that time, of serving peasant food to wealthy people, struck some as unattractive—-it struck me as fabulous because it blew away the idea that value was about fuss and frillage and showed that taste had nothing to do with ostentation. An excellent and moist ,delicately smoked starter of Eel ,very thinly sliced, accompanied by a deliciously bitter dandelion salad ,(smoked eel in Tuscany??) suggested that the kitchen had succumbed, perhaps , to international hotel pressure in offering a more universally known dish ; accompanied by a great quaffing Soave , not thin or acidic ,it provided a wonderful start to the evening .
The main course of Guinea Fowl with Castelluccio lentils, not as peppery as their cousins from Puy, demonstrated the culinary pedigree of Theo Randall, who spent 10 years as Head Chef at the River Café. It was real peasant comfort eating with a crisp skin highlighted by the saltiness of the prosciutto. The generosity of our host, committee member Wendy Alders, was exemplified by the wine choice, one of Abbruzzi’s finest red wines which complimented the gallinaceous bird, a Montepulciano from the acclaimed Gianni Masciarelli. Soft and luscious, a blend of Montepulciano with 15 % Sangiovese, it provided a combination of fowl and grape that was a triumph!!
A pudding of lemon tart, a great River Café classic and very different from the M.P.W. version, with a far greater proportion of egg yolk, delivered a delightful finish to a memorable dining experience. Sadly, with only 32 members present, many gastronomes missed a very special evening.
No Santé du chef was proposed on this occasion, but our thanks go to Sous chef, Louis Rodriguez (from Columbia!), who, in the absence of Theo, cooked in true Tuscan style. Whilst, at present, toasts and speeches no longer appear to be de rigeur at our suppers, members were heartened by the toast proposed by Captain John Stoy (a legend in his lunchtime) to the memory of Rose Gray, River Cafe founder and Theo Randall s mentor for many years, and who had passed away the previous month. The toast was to the Lady who made Italian food sexy!
Rose worked together with Ruthie Rogers ,quietly and modestly ,privately with no screaming or fuss, without attention seeking or an obsession with being on television, without tantrums or gossip, without many people even knowing her name — yet she changed the entire Italian Restaurant scene in London.
Our evening was a fitting tribute to her memory.
Attached is Theo’s recipe for the delicious Amalfi Lemon Tart.
AMALFI LEMON TART TORTA DI LIMONE
Amalfi lemons (zest and juice)
300 g of butter
300 g of sugar
6 whole eggs
9 egg yolks Tart shell
Mix lemon zest, juice, sugar and butter in a saucepan. Put on the stove until butter is melted. Slightly, make sure it doesn’t boil as the eggs will curdle. Whisk the eggs and add to the saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until it thickens. Whisking and stirring, pour into a prepared tart shell.
Pre heat the grill and place the tart with custard under the grill until black dots appear.
Remove and cool down. (Placing the tart under the grill will set the custard)
250g Plain flour
75g icing sugar
2 Egg yolks
Place the flour, icing sugar and butter in a food processor and mix until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the yolks and pulse for 10 seconds. Pour into a bowl and bind it together by hand. Leave it to rest in the fridge for one hour. Roll out the pastry and press into a tort shell. Leave to rest again for another half hour. Blind bake at 150 o C until golden in colour. Remove baking beans and return to the oven for an extra 5 min. Seal with an egg wash.
Give it a try—you will not be disappointed.