Lady Barbara Judge discovers impeccable style, presentation and taste at Alain Ducasse and Damien Leroux’s Rivea…
I am not always one for restaurants in hotels, sometimes I find them rather sterile and charmless, with more of an emphasis on appearance rather than the food that is being served. And, for me, taste is everything. However, when a friend suggested we meet at Rivea for lunch after a meeting I had in the area, the convenience of the offer led me to agree, and I’m delighted that I did.
Alain Ducasse and Damien Leroux’s Rivea is found in Knightsbridge’s modern and imposing Bulgari Hotel, with its swathes of stone, glass and steel creating a luxurious, yet still understated, feel as you enter. The restaurant itself is situated at the bottom of an impressive winding staircase, which creates a nice separation from the hotel. In truth, at first it felt quite grand for what was to be a short lunch before returning to my office across town, but once settled, I quickly forgot my initial concerns.
I always enjoy choosing several plates to share with friends when dining and so Rivea’s set lunch menu, which allowed us each to select four little plates from a very tempting menu, was a perfect option. We each chose two starters, a main plate and a dessert – although I would, of course, have happily chosen three puddings!
Our friendly and efficient waiting staff told us our choices might not come to the table in order. We would not have been unhappy with this, as it would have added another level of surprise to what was shaping up to be a feast of little unknown delicacies, underlined by the eight charming pots of colourful dips that arrived to accompany crisp, perfect grissini. Yet, for the most part, our choices arrived in a sensible order.
For starters we shared lovely red mullet with confit tomatoes, and the artichoke ravioli was a perfect balance of flavours and textures. The courgette velouté with almonds was wonderfully clean and simple, and a little pot of seasonal vegetables was the perfect all-round accompaniment. Our mains were delicious and more than matched up to the creativity of our starters, which is not something I say very often. The blue lobster with Provencal purple artichokes was heavenly and cooked to perfection, although my friend’s choice of fillet of beef with girolles surprisingly instilled severe jealousy in me. Thankfully, she kindly allowed me to taste what was an absolutely superb dish.
I always have high expectations when it comes to desserts. For me, they are the highlight of any meal, and a less than stellar dessert can cast a shadow over what otherwise would have been a very satisfactory experience. On this occasion,
I definitely was not disappointed. The limoncello sorbet with lemon shortbread was tangy and delightful, while the chocolate tart with delicate chocolate petals was moreish and darkly delicious. It was the perfect end to our meal.
As one would expect from a restaurant as stylish as this with such eminent chefs at its helm, the presentation of our food was impeccable and, at times, I felt almost guilty for destroying each little work of art.
I left at the end of what was a veritable feast feeling just the right side of full and very happy that I had cast aside my initial reservations to indulge in a truly enjoyable meal.
While I have my doubts that I will ever be a complete convert to the hotel restaurant, I have certainly learned from Rivea to never judge a book by its cover. If I am able to eat food as delicious and inventive as this in the South of France this year, I will be very content indeed, even if my waistline may not be!
020 7151 1025; rivealondon.com
Lady Barbara Judge is currently the chairman of the Pension Protection Fund in the UK, and has held many posts across the corporate and charitable sector, including commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Lady Barbara has always had an abiding love for food, and her frequent international business travels have enabled her to indulge this passion in many top restaurants across the globe. Lady Barbara Judge pays all of her own expenses.