Autumnal shades

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Conkers. Conkers and brisk walks kicking up piles of crunchy leaves. That’s how I think of autumn. I spoke to a French colleague about conkers and he said with typical French aplomb that “you British are crazy”. For the French have a much more sensible use for their conkers; instead of drilling and stringing them, they celebrate autumns’ harvest by cooking their chestnuts (admittedly sweet chestnuts not horse-chestnuts, which aren’t actually edible). I have to admit after sampling master French chef Alain Ducasse’s seasonal chestnut menu at Rivea at the Bulgari Hotel, Knightsbridge this week the French have conquered us here.

The original Rivea is in St Tropez, and you can understand why in that sunny and extravagant city Ducasse created a restaurant celebrating the best of French and Italian Riviera cuisine. The chef is famed for his attention to detail and the local nature of his restaurants, so I find it strange that he decided to open another Rivea in the basement of the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge.

It is a very grand setting admittedly, a serene harbour from the bright and brash nature of the famed London high street it backs onto, but without any natural light you don’t feel much like you are on the Riviera. With its mirrored walls, high ceilings and modernist take on ‘70s décor you feel more like you are on a very luxurious cruiseship but once you sample the food you can just about imagine you’re on the way to the Riviera.

To help create that Riviera feel we had a glass of champagne and while choosing from the menu were presented with an amuse-bouche created for Rivea by Ducasse. A total of eight small pots filled with colourful pâtés served with biscotti, mixed breads and some fried flatbreads, each item explained in detail by the very attentive and knowledgeable staff.

Each pot had its own distinctive taste, rich heady beetroot, fresh cucumber and peppermint, tangy taggiasca and anchovy – it was a very fun way to start the meal. The biscotti were the most practical for this starter, although somewhat dry. Far better, however, was the delicious fresh bread and flatbreads which were more like spicy wafers, so one of us ended up using the biscotti as spoons to put the pates onto the other breads.

Once we’d sampled all the different pots it was time for the chestnuts. First we were brought a rich chestnut and butternut velouté. This creamy soup had a very tangy woody flavour, head chef Alexandre Nicolas blended the smoothness of the velouté with crispy celery shavings giving this dish a very enjoyable and contrasting texture. I wish it’d been hotter though.

Having just returned from Sorrento, Glass was used to the Italian way of cooking, pasta as a starter and meat served simply as a main which was exactly how the menu was served here, with paccheri pasta being served next. Sitting in rich sauce, covered in mushrooms and of course chestnuts this was a delightful entrée. The sweetness of the chestnuts contrasting beautifully with the chunky paccheri pasta.

For mains my partner had the scallops while I opted for the chicken. It seems this was massively to my detriment as she declared the scallops the best she’s ever had, succulent and perfectly matched with the chestnut purée. By contrast, while very tender, the chicken was a little plain, although by this point with my new found love of chestnuts I was happy to demolish the sides of them with shallots and tender girolles.

For dessert – a complex crumble, a sticky fruity crumbly base, topped with pear and chestnut ice-cream with shards of pear and chestnut waffles. It was delicious, although in this case I preferred the pear ice-cream as it’s flavour was abundantly rich whereas the chestnut was a little subtle, a little disappointing considering how deeply flavourful they were with the pasta and chicken dishes.

Overall, however it was a delightful meal, washed down with a lovely floral Lirac, La Reine des Bois, Domaine de la Mordorée, 2014 and at £45 a head is an autumnal bargain. Normally I’m only in Knightsbridge for the post-Christmas bargains at the Harrods sale, but this seasonal treat shows autumn can give winter a good run for its money.

Something us British may be too eager to do with our conkers, but we can appreciate the tastier side of the nut with Rivea Chestnut Menu until November 15th.

by Harry Cohen

Rivea London, Bulgari Hotel & Residences, 171 Knightsbridge, London SW7 1DW

Tel: +44 (0)207 151 1025
For email reservations, please go here

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