A review of River Cafe Two Easy by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

When recipes depend so heavily on the quality of one or two main ingredients, the ingredient must be perfect. Anything less than 70% chocolate (forget about compounds) will render your Chocolate vanilla truffles decidedly inedible, as will using lentils which aren‘t from Puy or Casteluccio. So this is a recipe book which will find its best audience in either large cities like London (for anyone in the UK, there is a very good list of suppliers at the back), New York, Sydney, or those who are lucky enough to have a wonderful regional food market nearby, particularly one which has a good selection of fresh shellfish.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

River Café Two Easy
By Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers
Random House
2005, hardback, aud$65.00, ISBN 0091900328

There are lots of River Cafes around the world. There’s a rather famous one run by “Buzzy” O’Keeffe in Brooklyn, as well as upscale restaurants in Canada and Mexico. The most famous River Café of all is the London one, opened in 1987 by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray. The restaurant is famous for the classy simplicity of its traditional Italian menu, and has consistently attracted the rich and famous, as well as having trained its own celebrity chefs, including none other than Jamie Oliver. Rogers and Gray have become celebrated television celebrities in their own right, with their own television show, and four very well received cookbooks. Their fifth, River Café Two Easy, follows a similar format to earlier books, with a clean classy presentation, large sumptuous photography, and fairly simple recipes which focus on exceptional ingredients rather than fancy technique.

The book is set up in order of when you might serve the foods in a meal, beginning with salads (including a section of 12 salads solely devoted to mozzarella), salted, smoked and dried fish and meat–primarily starters–pastas, soups, fish, birds, roasted meats, grilled fish and meat, vegetables, baked fruit, puddings, chocolate and coffee. There is also a chapter devoted to providing instructions on cooking basic Italian provisions such as wet polenta, beans, porcini, making your own breadcrumbs, and organising an Italian store cupboard.

After a particularly bad food experience at a friend‘s party, my family can no longer eat pasta with shellfish, so for me, the section on fish pasta is the weakest in the book, with recipes that include ingredients my family won’t touch such as sardines, squid, langoustine, clams, and anchovies. There is certainly no disputing the ease of these recipes though, and shellfish fans will enjoy them. The dessert recipes are heavenly though, and the sort of classy faire you can impress friends with at a moments notice (providing you have the ingredients to hand). Dishes like “Black fig, almond” (Rogers and Gray are as unpretentious with their names as they are with the cooking techniques) taste as magnificent as they look and are so easy to make you’ll impress yourself. Other dishes like “Apple, orange, walnut,” or “Rhubarb, orange,” provide such a sensation of flavours that they belie the basic nature of the dishes. There are also a number of lemon puddings which are both traditional and classic and still new, and a selection of very decadent (because of the 70% chocolate primarily) chocolate desserts such as “Rum, coffee truffle cake,” or “Coffee, walnut, hazelnut cake.”

Most of the recipes have been specifically designed to be quick, with the aim of being used for midweek menus. I’m not sure I’d be making Hazelnut truffle cake, or flattened quail for my kids after a busy day at work, but if timing were an issue, it would be perfectly possible, since both of those dishes can be done in an hour or so. All of the recipes fit on a single page and some take up only half the page, leaving room for a sentence or two of history, background, or personal recollection. Personally, I love the background information and with the possible exception of Nigella Lawson–a true reader’s cook–I never feel like there’s enough. Rogers and Gray have stayed true to form, and kept their description as clean and uncluttered as their recipes. The key, with this book, as with all River Café cookbooks, is the ingredients you use, and there is really no room for anything less than the best. Try to use that inexpensive plastic tasting mozzarella that you find in supermarket cheese (rather than deli) sections, and your mozzarella salads will be a disaster. If you try and substitute frozen supermarket haddock for the “Finnan haddock from the east coast of Scotland” for your Smoked Haddock Carpaccio, and your family and guests will never forgive you. When recipes depend so heavily on the quality of one or two main ingredients, the ingredient must be perfect. Anything less than 70% chocolate (forget about compounds) will render your Chocolate vanilla truffles decidedly inedible, as will using lentils which aren‘t from Puy or Casteluccio. So this is a recipe book which will find its best audience in either large cities like London (for anyone in the UK, there is a very good list of suppliers at the back), New York, Sydney, or those who are lucky enough to have a wonderful regional food market nearby, particularly one which has a good selection of fresh shellfish. The rest of us poor sods who have to rely on fairly basic provisions will either need to find a good mail order supply, or be content with the low calorie pleasure of looking at the pictures. Most of them are good enough to eat.

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