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Rivea at the Bulgari Hotel in London (Alain Ducasse)

Rating: 87.
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Rivea is a casual "small plates" dining concept launched by Alain Ducasse in Saint Tropez last year. It has had a London outpost since May 2014 and Ducasse is planning to open a third branch at the Delano Las Vegas hotel by the end of this year. Rivea London is housed in the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge and at the helm of the kitchen is Damien Leroux, who has worked at Ducasse restaurants in Provence and Monaco for the past 10 years. The seasonal menu is divided into Little Bites (£5 - £18), Starters (£7 - £11), Rivea Plates (£11 - £23), Pasta (£8 - £10) and Desserts (£5 - £8). I had lunch with my husband at Rivea on Sunday 29 June 2014 and we both ordered 5 dishes (2 starters, 1 pasta, 1 Rivea plate, 1 dessert)  and two dishes from the 'Little Bites' section and a cheese course for sharing.

Lunch started with some crisp bread sticks served with a mildly sweet vegetable dip (no photograph). This was followed by two 'Little Bites': Crudités and Socca crisps (thin, crisp chickpea pancakes). To accompany the crudités there were two dips, a mildly bitter and salty, anchovy and olive oil dip and a creamy dip of herbs (marjoram, parsley, chives, basil), Parmesan cheese and olive oil. The delicious and highly addictive socca crisps had been sprinkled with a spicy Serawak chilli powder.

Next up were two 'Starters'. First to arrive was an light Gamberoni (prawn) cocktail with lobster jelly. The crayfish-like morsels were fresh and tasty and the clear jelly was wonderfully elegant and pure. The second starter was served at the same time. A warm octopus and potato salad with rocket puree and some thin garlic crisps. Everything on the plate was well-cooked, but sadly the potatoes, octopus and rocket puree were seriously underseasoned and were crying out for some salt. Luckily salt and pepper were on the table and after I had added some salt, the flavours were significantly improved.

I mentioned the underseasoning to our waitress, who discussed it with the chef. Just before the next course was served, she explained that chef wants to serve his food as natural as possible and that the lack of seasoning was intentional. Fortunately she was kind enough to point out that I might have the same issue with the pasta dish that came next, which was pappardelle with tomatoes , girolle mushrooms and almonds. The pappardelle had been perfectly cooked but the flavours were indeed very delicate, the natural flavours of the ingredients were just not enough to carry the dish and even the tiniest amount of salt instantly lifted the flavours.

The next dish certainly agreed more with me. Grilled corn-fed chicken breast with flavoursome skin and a concentrated chicken jus, complemented by delicious macaroni 'au gratin', which added a lovely richness to the dish.

For dessert we shared three British goat's cheeses, including a delicious Dorstone from Neal's Yard Creamery. This was followed by a superb bitter-sweet chocolate tart, that had a wonderful satiny texture and was served with cocao nibs ice cream.

This meal at Rivea was somewhat of a hit-and-miss affair. The quality and provenance of their ingredients is excellent (some of the produce is proudly on display in the dining room) but even great ingredients need seasoning (spices, salt, pepper, herbs - anything) to elevate them to great food. Generally the dishes were well constructed, but their individual nature didn't make them ideal for sharing, the little bites being an obvious exception. Service initially was at rapid-fire speed but when when we expressed our desire for a slightly more sedate pace, adjustments were made accordingly.

The staff was enthusiastic, very knowledgable and friendly - we were made to feel very welcome. The pricing of the quite extensive wine list was commensurate with Knightsbridge and Ducasse economics; there were some interesting and relatively affordable choices from the south of France however. Rivea is a very promising restaurant that already has a lot going for it, but for the time being it is still a work in progress.

Posted 26-07-2014


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