Rivea London – Review

Jonathan R Jones

Rivea London

The latest incarnation of Alain Ducasse’s Rivea concept – there’s also a ‘branch’ in St Tropez – opened at the Bulgari Hotel and Residences in London’s Knightsbridge in May 2014. Promising ‘a taste of the Italian and French Riviera’, the concept is inspired by the food markets of both, aiming to bring the ‘cuisine du soleil’ to London.

Food & Drink

Start by selecting a cocktail from the dizzying selection: we opt for a cheeky Bardot (based on vodka and cassis) and a Great Fitzgerald (seduced as much by the literary reference of the name as by the promise of a whiskey and absinthe base). To accompany your cocktails try the tigelle (tiny muffiny pancakes, here stuffed with pesto and rocket) and the more-ish roasted panisse – chickpea flour sticks of carby heaven (fluffy inside with a delicious crisp shell).

The menu is based on small plates – which can be both charming and infuriating and is always guaranteed to make you lose track of the bill. At least at Rivea, despite the waiter’s laconic ‘they come when they are ready’ they do actually arrive in a sensible sequence. To start, the warm octopus and potato salad (more carbs, are you spotting a theme?) was delightfully chewy and delicately seasoned. Marinated sea bream was perfectly cooked but the Pascaline pie was a rather disappointing concoction with an overpowering taste of pesto. And despite a different texture, the sage and Parmesan gnocchi (more potato anyone?) provided insufficient contrast. I struggled to taste either the artichoke or borage in the ‘artichoke and borage ravioli’. But the vegetable caponata stood out – a velvety concoction with just the right amount of oil.

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We opted for a surf and turf take on the main courses: the Scottish blue lobster was a little overcooked (or perhaps it was just grumpy from the flight to London) but the seared beef fillet was a delight. Our waiter recommended a ‘cookpot of vegetables from our farmers’ which turned out to be an odd undercooked medley of vegetables delightfully dominated by some earthy mushrooms. Our sommelier recommended a light French Ventoux which proved a delightful match for the challengingly varied flavours.

Any ‘Italian’ restaurant must nail a tiramisu and Rivea doesn’t disappoint. And the chocolate tart was dense and rich, and perfectly off-set by a scoop of rhubarb ice cream. We were badly in need of our fresh mint tea after the carb onslaught and really didn’t need – although greedily devoured – the chocolate-dripped oaty discs of biscuit which accompanied it.

Look & Vibe

The restaurant’s sweeping circular staircase, graced with some of the longest fringing you have ever seen, is achingly glamorous. Giulio Capellini’s interior channels retro luxe, striking a perfect balance between comfort and elegance. You can’t fail to fall in love with the bold blues of the geometric carpet, whose facets are echoed in the shiny metal fins which line the walls. Cream leather banquettes, aquamarine sofas with smart lemon-yellow piping and high-gloss varnished wooden pillars complete the Deco-inspired feel. The eclectic but rhyming mixture of tablewares from the likes of Iittala and Muuto provide funky splashes of colour. Staff are clad in blue chinos and Converse with matching cardigans and bow-ties, in an intriguing take on ‘smart casual’. The pumping pop which makes its way down the staircase from the bustling bar above will annoy some, but the volume was comfortable and combined with the perfectly pitched lighting makes for a stylish vibe.

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Six small plates per person, plus two cocktails and a bottle of wine: around £95 per person excluding service.

The bottom line

Surprisingly satisfying small-plate cuisine in a glamorous setting with a price tag to match, where quirky touches to both menu and interior avoid hotel restaurant ennui.

Book online at rivealondon.com.

About Jonathan R Jones

Jonathan R Jones is a freelance writer on art, interiors and lifestyle based in London and Berkshire. As well as covering food and travel for VADA, he writes for publications including Art Review, Modern Painters and Sculpture Magazine and is Contributing Editor at COVER Magazine. Find him blogging at jonathanrjones.wordpress.com.

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