River Cafe Chocolate Nemesis Revisited

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I have long admired the River Café from a distance and via the books of Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. They have a wonderfully clear vision of how to prepare and serve food at its best, and have certainly revolutionized many kitchens in the UK and around the world. There seems hardly to be a self-respecting chef in England who has not worked there at some time in their career.

I had a surprise birthday lunch there recently, and was absolutely delighted when Ruth Rogers came to the table and declared Rococo to be her favourite shop. She then took me to meet Rose Gray and we talked chocolate for some time. Which chocolate did I use? What do they use? We all tasted some pretty raw chocolate that they had been given, and were experimenting with, from a plantation in Venezuela. Even in its raw state, the quality of the cocoa beans shone through the chocolate.

I had been dying to taste their celebrated Chocolate Nemesis, and so we shared it for pudding. At the end of the meal Ruth and Rose asked me what I thought of the pudding. Here I was, in front of these two gurus of modern Italian food, being asked my opinion of one of their most famous creations. I said it was really delicious, extremely rich and filling (we were unable to finish it), the texture sublime, but that I found it perhaps a little too sweet and buttery. Finally I asked if, with their blessing, I could tweak the recipe and put it into my book. I have changed the method of assembling the ingredients, but it seemed to produce the right texture, so here it is.

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  • 100 g icing sugar 250 g real dark
  • chocolate (I used Valrhona Guanaja 70%), roughly chopped
  • 150 g butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing
  • 4 organic eggs, separated
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar
  • crème fraîche, to serve


Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4 and line the base of a 20 cm round cake tin (not springform) about 5 cm deep with greaseproof paper, then butter that.

Put two-thirds of the sugar in a heavy-based pan with 5 tablespoons of water. Heat until the sugar has completely dissolved then, over a low heat, add the chocolate and stir until it has melted. Finally, stir in the butter. You should have a thick, glossy mixture. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the remaining sugar with the egg white and salt and vinegar (I don’t know why this works but it does seem to help), until they have reached meringue/soft peak consistency. Beat the egg yolks into the lukewarm chocolate mixture and add this mixture to your meringue bit by bit, folding it in gently.

Bring to the boil a large kettleful of water and pour into a baking tray large enough to hold the cake tin to make a bain-marie. Pour the batter into the prepared mould and place it in the baking tray filled with hot water. It is important that the water comes up to the rim of the tin. Carefully place in the hot oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until set. Test by placing you hand gently on the surface, or with a skewer; it should be set like a firm jelly.

Allow to cool out of the water bath before unmoulding. Serve cold with crème fraîche.