Lunch at Rivea

Rivea London

I can’t remember now where I read about new restaurant, Rivea. I probably saw something on Twitter. When I looked at the menu and saw the chef was none other than Alain Ducasse, I was pretty keen to try it out, not least because of the focus – very on-trend – on vegetables. I have a friend I go to lunch with every couple of months, and I gave her the option of meeting here, or at new restaurant Rabbit (don’t worry, I’m eating there next month so expect a review shortly afterwards). What I probably should have done was check the location of Rivea before suggesting it to Victoria as an option. In the last few minutes before leaving the office, my heart sank as I looked it up: the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge! Not somewhere I am accustomed to meeting friends, whether for lunch or no. Nevertheless, we had a reservation, and I consoled myself with the fact that the menu didn’t look too expensive, especially if we stuck to the ‘small plates’.

Rivea is in the basement of the hotel, reached via a rather beautiful curved staircase. Despite being underground, its high ceiling and careful use of lighting means it doesn’t leave you feeling oppressed. The restaurant was empty when I arrived for our 12.45 lunch, and remained fairly quiet throughout; I think as we left there was one table of American tourists and perhaps one or two other business lunches taking place.

The menu’s appearance gives an idea of Rivea’s design aesthetic:

Rivea Menu

We were advised to have five or six small plates each, or else two or three small plates and a main course. That might be fine if you are really hungry, and have the wallet to match (though I suppose main courses ranging from £12 to £23 isn’t at all bad for London, and the Set Lunch menu of two starters, one main and a dessert for £35 does seem like very good value), but, what with us both working in publishing, neither Victoria nor I were prepared to spend that much on a friendly lunch. We therefore decided to have a small plate and a pasta each.

While we waited for our food to arrive we made the most of a delicious snack, breadsticks with a delicious, creamy aubergine puree:

Amuse Bouche

Worrying that we might have ordered too little (apparently the small plates would be very small), we also made quick work of the bread basket:

Bread Basket

The olive bread was particularly good; rich and with an intense olive flavour, but also light and very moreish.

For my starter I had ordered caponata, one of my favourite Italian dishes (as regular readers of this blog will know!):

Caponata

It was presented beautifully (both Victoria and I loved the bowls the starters came in), and tasted pretty good, too. Very fresh and with a good balance of the sweet and sour elements that characterises a proper caponata. Personally, I would have liked a touch more tomato though. Victoria chose Buffalo Mozzarella, Courgette and Basil for her starter:

Courgette, Mozzarella, Basil

Perhaps not the best starter on a cold November day – we both commented that it was more suited to eating during an Italian summer, preferably by the sea. But it certainly did conjure up memories of Italy for both of us and tasted incredibly fresh. The mozzarella was light and creamy and perfectly accompanied by courgette and basil. There was also a pleasant hint of citrus to the dish.

Aubergine is one of my favourite things to eat, so naturally I went for the Aubergine and Ricotta Ravioli from the pasta section:

Aubergine Ravioli

I think there were three medium-sized ravioli on the plate, which were filled with herbs and ricotta, and dressed with aubergine, tomatoes and olives. The pasta was perfectly cooked, very light but still with a slight bite to it, and the filling was rich and creamy. Not exactly rocket science, in that all these ingredients are proven to go well together, but presented simply and beautifully and cooked perfectly, I was happy to pay £9 for the plate.

Victoria, however, had less success with her Potato, Sage and Parmesan Gnocchi, although again the presentation of the dish was stunning (as was the crockery):

Gnocchi

I’m not a fan of gnocchi as I don’t really like potatoes, plus I tend to find they sit heavily in the stomach. But when Victoria said she didn’t think it was particularly good and wanted my opinion, I tried one of the dumplings. We both agreed that the sauce was far too watery, the gnocchi themselves overcooked and too soft (like pasta, they should retain some bite), and whatever was sprinkled over the top (presumably to provide some crunch or a contrast in texture?) didn’t work at all. A very disappointing dish. When the waitress returned to ask if we had enjoyed our pasta, and saw that Victoria had left most of hers uneaten, I said that we were disappointed. Shortly after that someone who was clearly our waitress’ superior came over to ask what was wrong, and promised to mention it to the kitchen.

We decided to forgo dessert, and instead shared some fresh mint tea. Again, the crockery was rather stunning:

Fresh Mint Tea

It was served with some home-made biscuits, with a chocolate and hazelnut filling:

Chocolate Biscuits

The bill was actually fairly reasonable from my point of view, given that my food was delicious. Though we should have asked to see the price of the tea! Completely insane at £6 each, though perhaps that’s what happens when you’re in the Bulgari Hotel. We’ll remember next time. Not that we’ll necessarily go back. I think it’s more for ‘ladies who lunch’ or tourists who don’t know where to eat just as well, but cheaper. The service was excellent, though. A pleasant lunch, in elegant surroundings, but there are better French and Italian (and vegetable-focused) places to eat in London.

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Categories: Food & Drink

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