Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tom Parker-Bowles and reader Catherine Wallen review Rivea.
Tom Parker Bowles is a food writer and restaurant critic for the Mail on Sunday. His latest cookbook is Let’s Eat Meat.
Catherine Wallen is a Londoner who eats out at least once a week. She is keen on Asian food, and rates the set lunch at Le Gavroche as her best ever dining out experience.
A newcomer to Alain Ducasse’s stellar portfolio, occupying the basement of the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, Rivea offers a luxurious London take on Provençal cuisine, as devised by chef Damien Leroux, who has been working for Ducasse for 10 years in the south of France. His menu showcases seasonal vegetables, served with seafood and pasta dishes. The interior was designed by Italians Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel.
As you’d expect from anywhere bearing Ducasse’s name, service is slick, without being smug. Waiters know their way around the menu and seem to have actually tried each and every dish. No irritating upselling here, just well-drilled confidence. When they smile, which is frequently, you actually believe they’re enjoying their job. *I was recognised.
On arriving we were given an explanation of the small-plates concept, and advised that dishes would arrive when ready. There was no problem ordering tap water, though it was not initially offered. The sommelier offered good advice on wines by the glass to accompany the meal, and service throughout was superb – polished but relaxed – and all our questions were handled with ease and enthusiasm.
Rivea promises the sun-soaked flavours of the French Riviera, and pretty much delivers them. There’s nothing fussy about the menu, just absolute belief in the quality of its ingredients. Sea bass carpaccio, shimmers with freshness, as does the bream. Beautifully cooked prawns come in a delicate, golden lobster jelly. Raw baby carrots, endive and tomato seem to have skipped straight out of a Provençal market, while rib and saddle of lamb is just old enough to know a thing or two about flavour. These dishes would please even the pickiest of Provençal (and northwestern Italian) palates. A magnificent plate of charcuterie comes draped with tissue-paper-thin slices of culatello that seduces the tastebuds, and even bresaola and San Daniele ham, often so dull, impress. Ducasse spent weeks in the kitchen ensuring everything was just-so before leaving it in the hands of chef Damien Leroux. Rivea is proof of a simple philosophy: find the best seasonal ingredients and do as little as possible to them. Amen to that.
The seasonal menu has a great variety of dishes, and plenty to keep vegetarians happy. We started with a warm octopus and potato salad with slender discs of melt-in-the- mouth octopus, and tender tentacles. Stuffed tomatoeswere bursting with rich, almost meaty, flavour, while crisp-skinned red mullet came with confit tomatoes and black olives. Lobster gelée with prawns was sweet, light and fresh. As good as the starters were, the pastas were the stars of the show. Artichoke and borage ravioli was delicate, and sage and parmesan gnocchi was among the best I’ve had, subtly flavoured and cloud-like. Roast duck came with tender turnips and beetroots, and rib and saddle of lamb with new potatoes and broad beans. The duck, although cooked perfectly, was a little chewy. The lamb was delicious, but the broad beans were a tad underdone. For dessert we shared the braised rhubarb and strawberry with almond ice cream, which came with some lovely palmier biscuits.
The Bottom Line
It’s pretty hard to fault the food. The only slight downside is the room. It makes the best of a basement space in the Bulgari Hotel, but I found myself craving some natural light to flood onto my well-fed face. I did miss a view, and the room could do with a little more buzz. Still, I’ll be back. Stunning ingredients, beautifully cooked. Rivea rocks.
FOOD 9/10; ATMOSPHERE 7/10; SERVICE 9/10; TOM’S TOTAL: 25/30
The setting is super-swish, with exemplary staff that make this a first-class dining experience. Rivea is bit too expensive for frequent visits – I’d go for special occasions. I’m tempted by the set lunch deal (£35 for two starters, a main, a dessert, plus water and coffee), which seems terrific value.
FOOD 9/10; ATMOSPHERE 8/10; SERVICE 10/10; CATHERINE’S TOTAL: 27/30
Rivea Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
Rivea’s menu features a good deal of British produce, including much of the seafood and all of the lamb and beef. There’s a strong emphasis on healthy eating, with many vegetarian dishes. Much of the imported produce is air freighted – something Rivea should look to review, likewise the coffee, tea and sugar, none of which is fairly traded.