Nine out of ten restaurants fail and when Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers set up their restaurant in 1987 no sensible person would have bet on it’s survival. For a start, both partners were home cooks, with no real commercial experience; they were both middle-aged when everyone knows that cheffing is a young person’s game and they had the ridiculous idea of writing a new menu, not only every day, but for every service.
At the time she founded the River Café Rose Gray was 48. She had had a wretched childhood, the solitary child of an unhappy mother, brought up by relations. It was only when she was sixty, after her mother’s death that she found out the awful truth which was at the heart of her mother’s unhappiness. A few months before Rose had been born her mother had returned home from a trip to London to find the family home burnt to the ground. Inside it was the body of her first child, a 7 month baby girl and the girl’s nanny. Her husband, a 26 year old pilot in the RAF, died trying to save them.
Rose had 4 children from 2 marriages and after a business selling imported cast iron stoves went bankrupt, went to live with her second husband in Italy. There, she developed her love of Italian food and lived the Slow Life before being asked to join Ruth Rogers in their River Café venture. Their style of using only fresh ingredients bought from the market every day destroyed Nouvel Cuisine and came to epitomise the Slow Food ideal. They also pioneered the idea of having an open plan kitchen, so that the customers could watch the food being prepared, a concept which came to be copied everywhere.
Perhaps the restaurant succeeded because Ruth Roger’s husband was the immensely wealthy architect Lord Rogers, who could subsidise his wife’s expensive hobby. Whatever the case, all advocates of the Slow Life should be immensely grateful.