This is modern details of legendary London restaurant interior, the River Café. Architecturally, that almost primal interior had great clarity in terms of spatial demarcations and detailing. And something about the restaurant’s new look suggests the sculling equivalent of Vorsprung durch Technic: there’s a super-refinement of details, surfaces, lighting and ergonomics that has turned Ruth Rogers’s and Rose Gray’s shrine to Italian provincial cooking from a vivacious culinary punt dating back to 1987 into what Le Corbusier would surely have described as a machine for eating in.
The River Café faces the Thames, more or less opposite the Harrods Furniture Repository, a key marker-point in the Boat Race. The architects’s interventions (Stuart Forbes Associartes) have been subtle, and executed with a precision that has given the place vivid new graphic and surface qualities; this is high-rest eating. The slanted glazing above the long service counter has a silk-screened semi-opacity; there’s softly reflective glazing behind the new bar counter; the glass wall of the private dining room allows the exclusive few to watch the cooking; tiny hanging halogen downlighters accentuate the perspective of the long room, leading the eye to the one area of almost shocking calmness: the kitchen itself.
How can so few cooks working in what is still a smallish professional kitchen serve 80 diners so quietly, and without fuss? It’s an orchestration of lines of activity and communication. More precisely, it’s about where the key kit has been placed: the oven, the grills, the hots (hobs and ovens). And it is here where architects instincts about the precision of rowing – positions, interlocking radii, communal movement – must have made small but crucial differences.