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The River Café's chocolate nemesis [Recipe]

I can't share vicariously in the grief that's met the death of Rose Gray – I never met her, ate at the River Café or even owned one of her cookbooks – but of course I knew who she was, and I know enough about British restaurants to understand how profoundly she influenced them.

This chocolate cake is legendary. A signature of sorts at the RC, it famously never worked when people tried it at home, and was the ruin of a million mid-Nineties dinner parties. In the popular imagination it's an archetype for hubristic home cooking, and it is a bit of a fiddle. The flourless cake bakes in a bain marie for "over an hour": mine needed an hour and a half before its top stopped wobbling. Making it, you strike a tricky balance between raw and dry, but I'm pleased how this turned out.

A few non-RC cracks appeared as I cut it, and I can't imagine the River Caff would have used Spanish raspberries in March (don't shoot me: I didn't buy them, just imagine it's late summer and they're from Scotland) but this was truly glorious: richly flavoured, smooth and surprisingly light. It uses just four ingredients, too, which sums up everything I know about the restaurant.

Yesterday, when I went to buy the ingredients, the Fulham Waitrose was out of unrefined caster sugar, and low on dark chocolate. It's probably a coincidence, but maybe I'm not the only River Café local who made this cake in the great cook's memory.

The River Café's chocolate nemesis (serves 10-12)

675g dark chocolate 70%
450g butter
10 whole eggs
675g caster sugar

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bain marie. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees and line a 27cm springform cake tin with foil.

Beat together the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer for five minutes until they've quadrupled in volume. Fold the chocolate and butter mixture into the eggs and sugar and stir thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin.

Place the cake in a large roasting tin in the oven, then pour enough boiling water into the tin to rise 3/4 up the side of the cake. Cook in the preheated oven for over an hour, then turn the oven off and allow to cool completely before removing. Serve with crème fraiche.


  1. Good to see a recipe on the blog Ollie, think we may have found pud for first night of TSL.

  2. Yes a very sad loss and your tribute is very touching.

  3. what a gorgeous tribute - and so incredibly sad about Rose...

  4. I tried to make it myself once but I should have left it in a bit longer like you did.

    A few months later I went RC before and had to have it for dessert. Considering what I know goes into it I was amazed at how light it tasted.

  5. a sweet tribute, Ollie. love the way you write. no one would have noticed those cracks. x shayma

  6. James - Thanks, will look forward to tasting your version!

    Gastro1, Gastrogeek - Kind of you to say.

    Patrick - It is amazingly light, isn't it? Not having any flour makes all the difference.

    Shayma - Ah, I'm not sure there - the readers are gimlet-eyed :)

  7. Lovely post Ollie. I may be wrong but think they refined the recipe after the notoriously tricky first one - pretty sure there's a simple nemesis in one of the River Cafe Easy books?


  8. I've recently taken to collecting the shopping lists left in trolleys by shoppers. I just found one that said simply:

    Dark chocolate
    Caster sugar

    I assume they already had butter. Touching that so many are marking a sad occasion in such a lovely (and decadent) way.

  9. Salty - Have had a look - you're spot on. But the 'easy' version is almost identical to this one: the only difference is you make a syrup: http://cakestorm.blogspot.com/2009/06/easy-chocolate-nemesis-revisited.html

    James - That's amazing, and very sweet.

  10. Is this the easiest chocolate recipe of all time or what?! Sometimes (all the time) complexity puts me off but WOW, this one I can almost do with my eyes closed. Consider this bookmarked.

  11. Catty - Um, no, I don't think it is the easiest chocolate recipe of all time. Far from. Good luck cooking it, though, eyes open or closed.

  12. Olivia Alexander4 March 2010 at 17:42

    The ingredients are pretty much the same as for chocolate roulade, which puts me and my stomach firmly in the 70s. No tricky bain marie for the roulade, though, and the rolling it up bit (with masses of whipped cream spread all over its middle, increasing mine) was always done on the basis that it would and should crack as its informality was part of its charm. I still make it regularly which shows how unadventurous I am. I'll try the RC cake now I have the recipe - though it could be in the two RC books I've had for years but seldom used. Thanks for spurring me on.

  13. I making chocolate nemesis for first time for a girly night having read recipe in Times article about Rose's death. Up to my elbows in lovely gooey chocolate....can't wait to try!

  14. Thoughtful posting, and a lovely tribute to Rose Gray. I should try cooking it, love the idea of having a flourless cake with plenty of dark/bitter chocolate.

  15. I tried making this beast about ten years ago and ended up with a chocolate swamp. A very delicious swamp, but a swamp nonetheless. Still working up the courage to try it again.

  16. I went to the River Cafe for the first time last week. I didn't order the chocolate nemesis which, when I tasted my companion's, was a huge regret for me. It was divine! Mind blowingly good. And I'm not a big chocolate dessert lover.
    I will try this recipe, thanks for posting it. I've tried Trish Deseine's version, a chocolat fondant cake which was very good but the River Cafe's version was much lighter, more like a chocolate mousse cake.
    I'm struggling to create a white chocolate version...

  17. Michael Pearson21 April 2010 at 23:54

    Have been making this for years at half quantity to the recipe given above and the only disaster I had was to cook it too long on one occasion..it was still edible if a little dry. It is so simple to make however and always goes down a treat..I usually serve it with crème fraiche and red-currents.