Rivea (stupid name) is in the bowels of Bulgari in Knightsbridge, a hotel which looks like a vast Virgin Upper Class lounge. It sits opposite One Hyde Park (stupid name), an apartment block which looks like a vast Virgin Upper Class lounge and which I am fairly certain appeared two weeks ago in a very silly television show called Silent Witness, in which a plutocrat was murdered with scented gas after being chased by the FSB. Was he Litvinenko, or Berezovsky, who I think was murdered for suggesting that Vladimir Putin is really Dobby the masochistic elf from Harry Potter? Who knows, but it is always gratifying when the BBC drama department does the government’s work for them. Even so, with the super-rich (when did everything get so super?) I can never tell whether the joke is on us, or them. It is true they have, as a class, appalling taste; but that is little succour when dining in Rivea.
Rivea used to be Il Ristorante, an Italian which specialised in very small Italian food, which was nice enough if very small Italian food is your thing, but then Alain Ducasse blew it away on scented wind. Alain Ducasse runs the world’s maddest expensive restaurant, Le Louis XV in the Hôtel de Paris on La Place du Casino, Monte Carlo. This is a square through which billionaires cruise their Bentleys, as if on spring break.
I visited Le Louis XV by mistake, and the thing I remember most clearly (apart from the chair they brought for my bag, as if I dined with my bag but not my shoe) was the full-sized tree in the dining room. I think people often wonder, as they lick Hello! — what is the ultimate destination for all this desperation, this terror, the extraordinary greed of decline, all this money? Well, I can tell you, because I am not a conspiracy theorist, and I do not believe that there are nuclear silos — in fawn? — under One Hyde Park (stupid name), or escape pods in yachts with Venetian blinds and bottles of Dom Perignon that go clink, clink, clonk. It is the tree in Le Louis XV in the Hôtel de Paris on La Place du Casino, Monte Carlo, and, although it is, or was, a very nice tree (I suspect it is dead), it was not worth ruining a civilisation for; that is, it was not worth the journey.
Alain Ducasse is the executive chef at Rivea, which is now, in my mind, a tiny annexe to Le Louis XV, serving French and Italian food; but it is art deco and in London town, which is still, just, a proper place. There is a staircase wrapped around the room, which is windowless, plush and hushed, in calm blues and creams with polished woods; the staircase is wrapped in an alarming, faintly obscene silver curtain. The rich are not here today; they are somewhere else. The food, again, is small, because rich people are not fat these days — are they channelling tiny Playmobil people? — and delivered by staff so amiable I can imagine them operating the defibrillators that live at bus stops in Monte Carlo from sheer altruism.
We have, in this order: buffalo mozzarella, choked by cold courgette, which seems cruel under the circumstances; ricotta ravioli in a ‘delicate’ chestnut velouté (good, if neurotic); seared beef fillet (excellent); corn-fed chicken breast with macaroni au gratin (likewise); a cheese plate; and a fierce tiramisu, which is large for Rivea, thus almost normal-sized, as if the chef clutched his brow and rebelled.
So another calm meal in another calm restaurant, styled to look like nowhere. Advertising does not look like the world any more; the world looks like advertising.
Rivea London, 171 Knightsbridge, London SW7 1DW, tel: 020 7151 1025.