This year we’re proud to be celebrating a memorable anniversary: for 25 consecutive years both the owners and much of the staff of London’s River Café have come to visit a handful of Tuscany’s best oil producers to taste the new oil and finalise their orders.
This has meant happy gatherings at Selvapiana and Fontodi, Capezzana and Fèlsina that have been repeated each year in November when the olives change colour. Over the years they’ve been attended by the many young people who have cooked, served and worked in the wine cellars of this iconic London restaurant where extra virgin olive oil has always played a central role in the cuisine.
Ruthie Rogers and the late great Rose Gray, who founded the River Café in 1987, deserve a special mention as does importer David Gleave, of Liberty Wines. Like the producers, they’ve never wavered from their commitment to using fine extra virgin olive oils and wines.
And they were right. They always believed in the Tuscan tradition of harvesting the olive crop early, as many others have now followed suit. They developed a taste for the many levels of intensity of the ‘fruity and piquant bitter’ notes of oils in which the exuberance of the fruits’ phenolic components can be tasted thanks to the most modern extraction systems.
Extra virgin olive oil has never been as good as it is today! Italy now boasts over 500 different olive varieties that are producing oils fit to accompany dishes of every kind.
That’s one of the secrets of the River Café’s success: a constant search for the essential character of each seasonal ingredient.
Some of their dishes are particularly memorable but it’s the whole that works together by keeping a Mediterranean style of traditions alive in a modern way, like a classical play being reinterpreted by an inspiring company of actors.
The olive growers of Italy and the Mediterranean will be able to redeem themselves by focusing on a credo of ‘quality and honesty’ as long as they can count on people as true and passionate as these.
The youthful flair that has distinguished the River Café right from the start has brought innovation and influence to the world of food, so much so that ‘tradition’ in that delicious restaurant is constantly being renewed without ever losing the energy and character of the original.
And that’s an example we can all believe in.