'Ploughing our own furrow' - restaurant celebrates hitting 10-year mark

The River Green Cafe has been named the best restaurant for vegetarians in the whole country, pictur

River Green owner and chef Chris Avey. - Credit: Archant

Ask around at work, or while next out with friends, and you'll probably find someone who calls themselves a regular at the River Green.

The vegan and vegetarian restaurant at Trowse, which this year marks its 10th anniversary, has spent the last decade earning itself a place in many people's restaurant roster.

Owner and head chef Chris Avey said while some might only come once or twice a year, plenty of others - up to 40pc according to a survey of its customers last year - visit every month.

In June the team will mark the restaurant's decade milestone, with Mr Avey having been there for six - he started in 2015, became a director in 2016 and took full ownership in 2017.

It will come after a year which has arguably been the strangest of all 10, with the pandemic forcing the restaurant to quickly adapt and weather lengthy closures.

River Green Café in Trowse, run by Chris Avey, is one of the finalists in the best restaurant catego

Last year, River Green won the accolade of best vegetarian restaurant in the country at the first Vegetarian and Vegan Awards 2020. Owner and chef Chris Avey. - Credit: Archant

With the village shop having shut a month before the pandemic and many takeaways not going as far as Trowse, Mr Avey's role suddenly became that of a village shopkeeper.

"I started off by turning the restaurant into a village shop and started pop-up takeaways for the village," he said, "which were very popular."

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Their quick-thinking was met with gratitude, and orders, from those living locally.

"When we did open we adapted the menu every week," he said, "which has been really fun. To be honest I have been mostly cooking what I want and we've had wall-to-wall five-star reviews."

Though winter was more of a challenge - Mr Avey offered frozen meals for customers, a jacket potato and hot soup station at one point and at-home meal kits - he said he had enjoyed the sense of freedom.

Its latest change is the addition of local coffee brand Kofra, who moved into what had previously been its teaching kitchen next door.

The new Trowse Kofra coffee occupies the former teaching space at the River Green Café. 

The new Trowse Kofra coffee occupies the former teaching space at the River Green Café. - Credit: Neil Didsbury

"Over the years people, especially in the village, have said wouldn't it be nice if there was coffee and cakes, and while it would have been nice it would have been too much of a stretch for me," he said.

But when the teaching kitchen was closed, he said he decided to go for it.

"I responded to those requests to see if anyone was interested," he said. "A couple came back interested, and Kofra came back very interested as José [Guzman, its managing director] had been thinking about Trowse for a while."

In more good news, Mr Avey also picked up the silver medal in the International Salon Culinaire awards, often seen as among the world's biggest and most prestigious chef competitions.

Kofra coffee to open in Trowse, Norwich

It opened at the start of April. - Credit: Kofra

Held virtually this year, Mr Avey entered a new plant-based category, with his celeriac okonomiyaki - a savoury Japanese pancake dish, the name of which comes from the word 'okonomi', meaning 'how you like' - with crispy kale dish seeing him fend off competition from around the world to place in the top three.

"A traditional okonomiyaki is usually a vegetable dish with meat added," he said, "but there is no vegan version of it so I built it up from the ground up.

"It's an ideal opportunity to put in local produce. In this particular competition you had to use a vegetable or mushroom stock from the sponsors and it lent itself well to being a substitute for soy and miso."

The okonomiyaki dish submitted by Chris Avey at the River Green into the International Salon Culinaire awards.

The okonomiyaki dish submitted by Chris Avey at the River Green into the International Salon Culinaire awards. - Credit: Katherine Avey

The next occasion on the calendar will be reopening, with the restaurant - which last year was named the best vegetarian restaurant in the country in the Vegetarian and Vegan Awards 2020 - set to do so from Saturday, May 22.

June will see it turn 10, something Mr Avey said may be marked with special menus and offers, including potentially barbecue options, as they did for their fifth anniversary.

Looking back, he said: "The restaurant was very popular, right from the start, but part of that was less choice. One of the main things that has changed is the amount of choice.

"When it first opened there were about five vegetarian restaurants and no fully vegan restaurants, and now there's probably the same number fully vegan. 

River Green Café in Trowse is one of three establishments from East Anglia to have been shortlisted

The River Green in Trowse. - Credit: Archant

"Everywhere has got vegan and vegetarian options now - the competition is much higher."

He said in recent years both high end dining and more affordable, street food styles had thrived, with casual dining options dining in the middle more likely to struggle.

River Green, he said, is "ploughing our own furrow".

River Green Café in Trowse is one of three establishments from East Anglia to have been shortlisted

A previous dish from the River Green in Trowse. - Credit: Archant

"It took a while to establish myself there," he said. "We changed everything to being in-house, we have gone a lot more local with produce.

"Last year we changed to a weekly menu - I change it every week to respond to what's in season."

He said there were ongoing struggles for the industry, including rising costs such as the living wage.

"Ingredients have risen in price," he added, "and margins are squeezed. But we are still here, and I'm happy to remain at River Green until I retire."

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