So the other day I found myself at Bombay’s domestic airport, but rather than catching a flight within India, I managed to squeeze in a quick culinary trip along the French Riviera and coastal Italy instead… and all from the elegant comfort of Rivea – the French-Italian restaurant at Taj hotel’s shiny new property!
I had been invited to the media launch of the restaurant at Taj Santacruz – a nine-course affair, complete with wine pairings and creative cocktails that flowed through the afternoon.
Kicking things off, we tucked into the colourful and all-too-inviting antipasti spread while the hotel’s executive chef – Vikas Milhoutra – spoke of the seasonal and coastal influences driving Rivea’s cuisine, which travels from the South of France to North West Italy.
Unsurprisingly, I piled my plate shamelessly high with the delicacies on display, not to mention the large varieties of cheese and olives…
… And may have had seconds and thirds of the burrata alone. The creaminess of the soft cheese was sharpened by the citron dressing and a sprinkling of basil – it literally melted with each silken bite, giving true credence to its Italian meaning, ‘buttered’!
We were then seated for lunch under Rivea’s rather dazzling chandeliers.
I especially loved how the influences behind the menu are imbued in Rivea’s décor too, from the glasswork details – designed to evoke a feeling of the waves embracing the coast, to the grey and green palette – rooted in Italy’s humble olive tree!
As soon as we’d settled in, wine was poured, bread was broken and so the feasting commenced.
To start with, a rich green pea pod essence soup, enriched with a heavy scent of truffle.
The truffling continued with elegant asparagus spears that arrived glazed with an indulgent truffled hollandaise dressing, while the non-veggies were treated to charred scallops presented with corn puree, pancetta crisp and caper berries.
Things turned into a bit of a carb fest after that with a three-cheese ravioli and wild mushroom tortellini brought out in quick succession, alongside an assortment of pizzas and crisp focaccia making their rounds!
We washed it down all too well, as the wines were carefully paired by our astute sommelier to cut through the heavy Italian flavours with a sharp acidic note.
An inventive trio of goat cheese presented a brief interlude.
As this is the one cheese that I’m unexplainably averse to, I went for an alternative in the form of a Rivea parmigiana, the restaurant’s signature take on the Italian classic involving a light milk foam.
I liked that it wasn’t too heavy on the cheese or the oil as is usually the case with this aubergine-based dish. It meant that I could do true justice to our penultimate course… a beautifully flavoured risotto that brought out the best of fresh, seasonal vegetables. While the non-veggies among us enjoyed a classic seafood risotto – when indulging in coastal fare after all!
Seeing as a European holiday would have been incomplete without a glamorous cocktail or two, Rivea’s creative mixologist was on hand to make sure we soaked it all in…
… Signalling the start of our final course with the aptly titled Medici. Named after one of Italy’s oldest and most powerful families, the rich concoction featured smoky flavours, burnt cinnamon and a heavy hint of sweetness with a luscious cherry thrown in for good measure!
Needless to say I was pretty stuffed by this point but managed to work up a whole new appetite for dessert altogether, with just the few short steps over to the open-plan cooking counter at the far end.
Quite simply plated perfection, wouldn’t you agree?!
Sandwiching a light vanilla cream, the buttery caramelised apple tart was polished off far too quickly… but I made sure to savour the last indulgent spoonful of the mascarpone that formed a crucial element of the deconstructed tiramisu. And even then, I don’t think I was ready to see the empty surface of my plate staring up at me, wiped clean.
Luckily I did get some closure, as living up to its famed hospitality, Taj’ wonderful team plied us with a bag of treats on our way out – a sweet reminder of a wonderful afternoon had!
Taj Santacruz, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (Domestic Terminal), Off Western Express Highway, Santacruz East, Mumbai
I was hosted by Taj Santacruz.