Anthea Gerrie Enjoys Mediterranean High Style in Mayfair at Glamorous Riviera London
Riviera is a loaded name for a restaurant, bearing a great deal more baggage than an eatery named Provence, for example. It provokes expectations of a dining experience awash in glamour as well as the kind of food one would expect from a restaurant which styles itself “Cote d’Azur in the heart of London” – yet despite the unlikely urban setting for such a proposition, Riviera London does not disappoint.
A drop-dead gorgeous room, light, bright and full of beautiful people is what you get – and a no doubt unintentional gate-keeping experience fuels the sense of exclusivity; you have to be name-checked to get the right to enter.
This St. James’s Street address which has been home to other restaurants in the past is approached at street level, where a clutch of hungry diners gathered waiting for permission to ascend the long escalator to the dining floor the night we visited. The perfectly friendly and efficient receptionist at Riera London explained this was to make sure a hostess was in place at the top to properly greet each party and direct them to their table – a shame the adjacent bar, with its summery decor and comfortable seating, is not made part of the arrival experience.
But what a joy those dining tables are once you get to them – well-spaced, draped in acres of white linen, with wicker-backed banquettes and bucket armchairs interspersed with regular dining chairs to offer an extra level of comfort and relaxation.
Pale parquet floors and matching floor-to-ceiling columns keep the infrastructure light and bright, and huge windows, including two on the diagonal on each end of the large dining room, add interest and a suggestion of superyacht dining. Wicker pendant light fittings and ornaments speak of summer all year round, and the huge, backlit, marble-topped bar set against one of the diagonals is a real showstopper, the perfect foil when dusk falls, painting the windows midnight blue.
Owners Arian and Alberto Zandi are twin Spanish entrepreneurs known for the South American fusion cuisine they have brought to Zuaya in Kensington, so it’s not a surprise the chef at Riviera London is part-Peruvian, though a relief to hear he has spent a lot of time cooking in southern France.
But L’Heure Vert, the Absinthe-based signature cocktail (£19), spoke first and foremost of Polynesia in its Tiki mug. We couldn’t help wondering if it was bought from Trader Vic’s when the famous South Seas bar closed its doors down the road at the Hilton – though in its heyday these themed vessels were gifted as take-home souvenirs with the most expensive drinks.
No proper Provencal menu is complete without courgette flowers in season, and at Riviera London it’s a pleasure to be served a giant version of the tempura-dunked, honey-drenched blossom, stuffed with a truffle and cheese filling which manages to stay subtle, still attached to the whole baby vegetable (£16).
Looking tiny but perfectly formed, a disk of steak tartare accompanied by grilled brioche (£14) proved much more substantial than its appearance suggested and was perfectly seasoned. Only our lobster brioche looked like just a couple of measly mouthfuls for a not inconsiderable £18. Main courses are excellent value; a 600g glazed veal chop with honey and mustard dressing (£57) served two with plenty to take home to transform into vitello tonnata the following day, and the whole turbot dressed with buttery pan juices and capers which preceded it (£44) was cooked to perfection.
These are pricey showpieces large enough to share, but there are plenty of mains for one priced between £23 and £47, below average for peak Mayfair. It was good to see octopus and Dover sole on the menu, which like lobster, turbot, and veal chops, appear all too rarely in London restaurants.
Sides are really not needed, and our plate of sautéed French beans with confit onion and chili (£9) was the only dull dish. Desserts are not really needed either, but a froth of something frivolous is always available from the open kitchen to freshen up the tastebuds at the end of the meal – in our case a perfect creme brûlée scented with lavender.
Wine prices are steep, but the 175ml glass size is generous, a plentiful serve of Cotes de Provence rose for £12 or £48 a full bottle. It’s the least pricey choice and also, as it happens, the best accompaniment to food from the south of France – sunshine on a plate, served with panache.
Tell Me More About Dining At Riviera London
Riviera London, 23 St James’s Street, London SW1A 1HA
T: + 44 20 8050 6932