Paul Smith discusses his love for London’s River Café.

By Dani Shapiro
January 13, 2011
Paul Smith, My Favorite Place
Credit: Illustrated by Andy Friedman

“I’ve been dining at the River Café since the beginning, before it became the famous restaurant it is today. It started out, more than twenty years ago, as the office canteen for the architect Richard Rogers, because there was nowhere to eat near the Hammersmith Bridge, in West London. It’s still run by his wife, Ruth Rogers. Very quickly, the place became a haven for British writers, actors, architects, and artists.

“The cooking was wonderful from the start, of course, but the River Café has also always been a true pioneer when it comes to the quality of its ingredients, whether it’s wild salmon, or char-grilled calamari, or really proper fresh pasta. Once a year, many of the staffers—young, good-looking men and women who are quite knowledgeable about food—go to Italy and select the olive oil and wine they’ll feature in the restaurant.

“To this day, when I’m home in London, tired from a tremendous amount of traveling, I go there and feel very welcomed. Even though the River Café is always buzzing, the staffers immediately ask me how I am, where I’ve been. There’s the sense that interesting people are all around. You don’t actually know this, but you can feel it.”

Designer Paul Smith recently opened a women’s shop at Claridge’s, in Mayfair, London, and a men’s boutique in Crystals at CityCenter, in Las Vegas.

What to Order

“I, personally, love the pork cooked in milk, but the River Café (Thomas Wharf, Rainville Rd.; 44-20/7386-4200; dinner for two $95) is famous for Dover sole—and very generous portions.”

Tavern Bites

“Near the café, there’s a lovely path along the Thames that leads to the Dove (19 Upper Mall, Hammersmith; 44-20/8748-9474; lunch for two $78), a 17th-century pub. Stop in for excellent beer and steak and ale pie.”

Design Inspiration

Sir John Soane’s Museum (13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields; 44-20/7405-2107;, set within three of the 19th-century architect’s former residences, exhibits an eclectic mix of nearly 30,000 items from around the world, many purchased at auction in England.”

London’s Top Address

“I visit Claridge’s (49 Brook St.; 44-20/7629-8860;; doubles from $930), in Mayfair, quite a lot. My little shop is there, and I’ve held fashion shows in the ballroom. Just like the River Café, I have a particular affection for the place.”

River Café

What It’s Like: As classic as a string of pearls, this New York jewel—in a perfect setting on the East River under the Brooklyn Bridge—has romanced diners since it opened its doors in 1977. The intimate flower-filled restaurant—on a magically retrofitted barge moored in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood—has had its fair share of hit-or-miss chefs over the years, but its most recent top toques have turned that trend around, producing superb seasonal American dishes, garnished with the gentle sway of the East River.

Sir John Soane

It's common knowledge that many of London's greatest museums—the British Museum, V&A, National Gallery, Tate Modern—don’t charge admission, but don't overlook some lesser-known freebies like the free lunchtime concerts at St-Martin-in-the-Fields church or the wonderfully hodgepodge collection of art and ancient sculpture in the wildly Victorian private house-museum of Sir John Soane.


A classic that’s as popular now as it was in the 20’s, this spot in chichi Mayfair is the epitome of elegance. The Art Deco details are sublime, as is the pricey afternoon tea (though it’s as much a people-watching exercise as an indulgent experience). Big draws here are the Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay restaurant (the city’s toughest booking) and the gorgeous Fumoir bar, which harks back to the days of flapper girls and jazz piano. Add neo-Art Deco suites fashioned by David Linley, and a stay here is like stepping back into the long-lost glamorous days of travel.


A 17th-century pub that serves excellent beer and steak and ale pie.