I'll be honest, you'll rarely find me in Mayfair - it's a little out of my price range. But earlier this year, Arian and Alberto Zandi (the twins behind Zuaya, El Norte and Como Garden) decided to add a fourth notch to their belts, swinging open the doors of the highly anticipated Riviera restaurant in St James's. It was then that I realised a trip to the opulent neighbourhood was inevitable.
Like the brothers' other elegant, fine dining venues, Riviera was an absolute stunner. So much so, that I don't think I can even put into words how gorgeous the interiors were. You begin your ascension to Instagram heaven via a Wes Anderson-esque escalator (which was OTT, in the best kinda way), before being guided to your flowing white linen-topped table. Huge, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the bustling St James's Street and brought in lots of lovely light, while an Art Deco bar glowed warmly behind us (which was incredibly atmospheric as the night drew in).
I leaned into the bougie vibes of this sophisticated eatery, ordering a figue side car (£18) from the extravagant cocktail menu. A dreamy mix of fig-infused cognac, Cointreau, lemon and orange juice, served in an elegant coupette, it was a tangy, jammy, heady concoction that went down in just a few sips. Once my (always late) dinner guest arrived, she sipped a Riviera espresso martini (£17), which married coffee-infused cognac with Tosolini liquor, coffee and cinnamon. Phwoar.
The first of our many dishes arrived quickly, the truffle and goat cheese-stuffed courgette flower in tempura (£15). Encased within a light, crispy batter, oozing creamy, tangy cheese and topped with a little drizzle of honey, it was a complete indulgence. Our eyes then lay on the king scallops (£16 each), nestled in their shells, swimming in a glorious pool of citrus butter. Simple yet perfectly executed, the shellfish was so melt-in-the-mouth, you could cut it with a spoon. And, of course, when you're at a French restaurant, it would be almost illegal not to get a bread basket (£5), served with yet more butter, which was homemade and whipped to fluffy perfection.
Appetites revved up, we then moved on to our mains. Unfortunately, the turbot a la meuniere (£43) wasn't quite to our tastes (the fish had a very strange, almost-gooey texture, although neither of us had had turbot before, so perhaps that's what it's meant to be like?). However, the slow-cooked baby chicken and sauteed wild mushrooms (£29) more than made up for it. Not only was the meat as succulent as can be, but it was also covered in a rainfall of truffle shavings that elevated the poultry rather than overpowered it, which can all too often be the case.
We topped up our feasts with a few extra sides; the French fries (£7) were deliciously crisp and well-seasoned, while the green beans (£12) had been lightly charred, offering a much-welcomed crunch with each bite. In between mouthfuls, we enjoyed a bottle of the 2017 Pouilly Fumé Gamme de feu, Domaine Landrat et Guyollot (£120) which was light and elegant, pairing perfectly with our white meats.
While I was too stuffed to even think about dessert, my pal practically frothed at the mouth reading about the tarte tatin. As she polished of the pud, she asked me, with a completely serious face, "Can you marry a dessert?". Think beautifully buttery pastry (this place’s butter bill must be through the roof), healthy hunks of apple and a crème brulee-style tuille that brought a slightly smoky finish. It was topped off by a generous helping of chantilly cream, the fattiness of which cut through the zingy fruit nicely.
The DesignMyNight Digest
I had an absolutely wonderful time at our London Riviera review and felt truly transported to the Med. Many restaurants as gorgeous as this sometimes prioritise style over substance, but that wasn’t the case here. The food and drinks were stunning from start to finish (par the turbot) and the service was warm, friendly and attentive. While the prices had been a little above my usual range, I would still jump at the chance to visit again.
💰 The damage: Around £290 for two plus service charge.
📍 The location: 23 St James's Street, SW1A 1HA.
👌 Perfect for: Elegant date nights and special celebrations.
⭐ Need to know: Make sure to book in advance - this place fills up quickly.