Annie and I headed to the swanky Rivea last night. When I saw an offer – 4 courses + glass of wine for £35 – from Bookatable at this Alain Ducasse restaurant in London’s Knightsbridge, I immediately suggested to Annie we went. Housed in the basement of The Bulgari Hotel & Residences, its rather opulent style isn’t the kind of place that normally attracts me – I’m more at home in friendly trattorias or stylish bistros – but I was attracted by the great Ducasse’s name. I put on a dress for the occasion – a rare event – and entered through a side entrance straight into the bar, which, with its low-lit glimmering style marked it mentally as a potential destination should anyone suggest meeting for cocktails in the area. Not something I really do but suddenly saw the appeal of. I could even get out my LBD (Little Black Dress; oh yes, I do have one). Despite the rather severe hotel air of dark mahogany and shimmering lights, the welcome was wonderfully friendly.
I was led down the sweeping, curved staircase to the dining room; Annie had arrived just a couple of minutes earlier and was waiting for me. She introduced me to our ‘nibbles’ – 8 little pots of ‘dips’ – that we could try while deciding what to choose from the menu. Well informed of which menu we’d booked for, that was what lay before us. I like it when restaurants do this rather than faff around for the ‘cheap deal menu’ while leaving you with the à la carte. We were off to a good start.
The food at Rivea follows the popular ‘sharing small plates’ formula. Our ‘deal’ gave us 2 starters, one Rivea plate (i.e. something slightly more substantial) and one dessert. The plates are inspired by the vibrant colours and flavours of the French and Italian Riviera. Our little pots were a great beginning; a kind of ‘artist’s palate’ as if trying to bring the colours of Dufy, Picasso and Matisse to our table. We were given a card with a ‘code’ – what flavours we would find – and it was like a little game identifying some of them, but the beetroot & horseradish stood out, and there was celeriac, pumpkin, aubergine and olive too; they were all good. With 5 starters on the menu and able to choose 2 each, we predictably ordered 4 different ones to extend our sampling.
The Provence-style Caponata – which came first – was the least successful. It had undergone a little too much of that fashionable deconstruction, so while containing all the elements you’d expect in a caponata, it lacked that rustic depth you want from the dish. The Marinated Sea Bream with Citrus though was sublime.
The delicacy of the fish enhanced by the wonderful dressing. The Delicate Chestnut Velouté with Ricotta Ravioli was a resounding success too.
Served warm, the velouté was poured over the ravioli at the table. It was wonderfully smooth and delicate while at the same time rich in a gorgeous chestnut flavour. The final choice of Seasonal Vegetables Cooked in a Cocotte was a delightful surprise when the ‘cocotte’ turned out to be a crisp pancake.
It was excellent – a kind of salade niçoise in a pancake cone. Our starters overall had provided us with a great range of lovely flavours, textures and colours. There were 4 ‘main’ courses – Rivea plates – to choose from. As we so often do, Annie and I made the same choice: Veal Fillet, Spinach and Wild Mushrooms. We were asked how we wanted the meat cooked and said ‘medium-rare’ and that’s exactly how it came.
It was a lovely dish: well-flavoured and beautifully tender meat; the spinach and mushroom accompaniment perfect. As was the glass of red we’d chosen: a Côtes du Rhône Villages Chusclan; the bottle was brought for us and the wine explained. The only hiccup in otherwise excellent and friendly service was having to wait a while for our wine; we’d ordered it at the beginning and had to ask for it to be brought once we were well into our starters. We’d chosen from the ‘deal’ offer of a white and a red wine and thought we could always order an extra glass later but we only had the one in the end.
We chose different desserts to finish. Annie’s Lemon Shortbread with Limoncello Sorbet was more exciting than it sounded.
A mound of delicious lemon cream – lemon-curd like – on shortbread with the sorbet on the side in a separate little bowl. My Chocolate Tart was wonderful too: a rich, deep bitter chocolate and completely gorgeous.
We ordered coffees to end and sat on for a while, staying over two hours in total with no sense of urgency or being rushed. They were fairly quiet – London seems quiet in this cold month of January – but even so the sense of welcome remained. When we paid our bill we were brought little gifts of some macaroons to take home. Rivea had been a success. We both liked it a lot and having arrived expecting high standards in cooking and service, I left not in the least disappointed and certain it would be great to return some time.