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A perfect pairing: The River Cafe’s sea bass baked in salt

The River Cafe in west London champions simple Italian cooking and seasonal ingredients. Who better to match a superb fish dish with the perfect Italian white?

The River Cafe founders Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers published the restaurant’s first book The River Cafe Cookbook back in 1996. Our most recent cookbook, River Cafe 30, was published in 2017 to mark the restaurant’s 30th birthday. It returns to classic recipes from the first book, refining them with newfound knowledge, and adding 30 new recipes inspired through the chefs’ work and travels throughout Italy.

River Cafe 30 tells the story of a restaurant that began in a space large enough for just nine tables, and which has grown, developing its vision but remaining true to its principles of good seasonal ingredients, simply prepared.

Wine at The River Cafe is rooted in the Italian terroir and culture, just like our food. Sharing the wide range of Italian grape varieties with customers is a key motivation in our wine selection process, and we visit Italy each year to meet both longstanding and new winemakers in order to keep the wine list fresh and original.

Pairing fish with wine is exciting. From delicate sea bass carpaccio to spicy fish soup, the flavours, textures and intensity levels of our dishes can vary widely. We draw on the extensive and varied range in Italian wine to enhance the characteristics of each dish, considering not only the type of fish, but how it is prepared and served.

There are many great Italian wines, and many possible combinations when pairing with food, so regular customers can enjoy a new experience of their favourite dish every time they come in.

Sea Bass baked in salt recipe

Cooking the sea bass in salt acts as an oven and intensifies the flavours of the fish. This enables the dish to be paired with a slightly more aromatic wine.

Serves 4

Preparation time 10 minutes

Cooking time 20 minutes


  • 1 whole sea bass (about 1.8kg), cleaned and gilled but not scaled
  • 3.6kg coarse sea salt
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • small handful dried fennel stalks

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/ gas mark 6.

2. Put the lemon slices and dried fennel stalks inside the cavity of the fish. Place the salt in a large bowl and add 250ml water.

3. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and cover it with half of the salt. Lay the fish on top. Cover the fish completely with the remaining salt.

4. Place the fish in the hot oven. After 20 minutes, insert a skewer into the fish. If the tip of the skewer feels very hot when pulled out, the fish is ready.

5. Crack open the salt crust and remove the hard pieces, ensuring that no salt remains on the flesh of the fish.

6. Carefully lift the fish and place on a platter. Remove the skin. Serve warm with salsa verde.

Salsa Verde

Salsa Verde recipe

Serves 10

Preparation time 1 hour


  • 100g salted capers
  • 100g salted anchovies
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • large bunch fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
  • bunch fresh mint leaves

1. Put the capers in a sieve and rinse under cold running water. Leave to soak in cold water for 40 minutes, then rinse again.

2. Rinse the anchovies well under cold running water to remove all the salt, then gently remove the spine bones and heads.

3. Pat dry. Separate the anchovies into fillets.

4. If using a food processor, put the parsley, mint, garlic, capers and anchovies into the processor and pulse-chop until roughly blended. This can also be prepared by hand, on a board, preferably using a mezzaluna.

5. Transfer to a large bowl and add the vinegar. Slowly pour in the extra virgin olive oil, stirring constantly. Finally, add the mustard and check for seasoning.

River Cafe 30 is published by Ebury Press (£30)

Wines to go with Sea Bass baked in salt


Hailing from the Friuli region in the northeast of Italy, bordering Slovenia and Austria, Friulano typically offers orchard fruit and almond aromas but also a delicate acidity and minerality. Lees ageing gives it a slightly creamy texture, adding body. Yet it remains a subtle and delicate wine, making it a great match for the sea bass in salt.

Fiano di Avellino

Fiano is a structured and spicy grape variety from the hills of Irpinia in Campania. It has a smoky character combined with a crisp apple flavour, which underlines its acidity. This unique combination of aromas enhances the delicate flesh of the sea bass without overwhelming it, but it is also strong enough to stand up against the salsa verde.

See also: 

Pairing wine with fish: What to choose

More Perfect Pairing recipes

Latest Wine News