Alain Ducasse’s restaurant empire grew around the flagship restaurant Le Louis XV in Monte-Carlo. Ever since his early days there, the chef has promoted Mediterranean cuisine. His latest venture in London is called Rivea.
Located in the former site of Il Ristorante at the Bulgari Hotel in Kinghtsbridge, this is not exactly the ideal space to convey the atmosphere of the Riviera. The dark basement has precious little in common with the light of the Côte d’Azur that has inspired so many. And yet, the designers have done what they can to produce an atmosphere of some charm in the dining room.
In a bid to make the experience less formal, the service has also been made to wear ‘cooler’ clothes, and acts a bit more youthful. Some of the staff have stayed on, such as the charismatic sommelier Sam Heathcote, whilst others have been brought in like Manager Emmanuel Guinard. Together, they look after the customers with professionalism, but also passion for what they serve.
When it comes to the cooking, the idea was to present a selection of smaller plates, which you can share. This means that it is no problem creating your own little tasting menu, and going through quite a nice selection of dishes.
Chef Damien Leroux’ food is clearly inspired by the cooking of the countries around the Mediterranean, and offers the one or other surprise to diners.
To begin with, a nice little selection of nibbles is available, of which the San Daniele Tigelle are the most convincing. Little buns, filled with very fine ham, pesto, and some tomato are scrumptious. This is just the right sort of thing to wet the appetite.
For those who associate Mediterranean cooking mainly with tomatoes, garlic, and provencal herbs, the marinated sea bream with citrus will be quite a revelation. The fish is served with a variety of citrus fruits, adding layers of acidity, bitterness to this very fresh starter.
In the same vein, the gamberoni with lobster jelly are light, intensely flavoured, and yet delicate; combining the essence of this remarkable product with the lightly set jelly that almost melts in the mouth. This is reminiscent of one of the greatest dishes we recently had in Monte-Carlo, although the quality of the gamberoni served sur place is even more impressive.
That Rivea uses beautiful produce, is demonstrated by John Dory. This is a fish that you hardly see on British restaurant menus, and a delight when served in such high quality. Firm, juicy meat is cooked for the just the right amount of time, and served with a sauce that intensifies, rather than masks its flavour. Again, the cooking here is technically impeccable, careful, and hard to fault.
We have yet to eat in a Ducasse restaurant that serves poor desserts, and Rivea will not be the one. The pastry kitchen here too is remarkably precise. A raspberry and chocolate tart manages to pull off the rather tricky feat of combining berries with chocolate. Apart from the harmonious flavours, the textures in this dish are a delight.
The concept, service, and cooking at Rivea are compelling. It is great that there is so much flexibility in the offering here, and the prices are reasonable, given its location, and offering. The only point worth considering was that the food might have been just a touch too safe. The cooking here is not about explosions of flavour, but rather very measured. This is a phenomenon we have seen in other Ducasse restaurants lately, but hope that it won’t be here to stay.
Ducasse often gets criticised for his arrogance, and elitist restaurants. Rivea is the perfectcounter- example, given that it offers a taste of a ‘Ducassian’ cuisine that is accessible for pretty much anyone. In London it is certainly unique, as very few Italian or French restaurants offer such a compelling ode to a region.