Believe it or not, some nights I don’t want to eat out. A train ride home with a bowl of broth on arrival is occasionally preferable to gourmet galas and oddball culinary combos. But this autumnal evening, with its cozy surroundings and soul-soothing food, Riva Kitchen changed my mind.
Helmed by chef Michele Berlendis (formerly La Leggenda dei Frati and MaMa Florence cooking school), it’s one of the few restaurants where you’re buzzed into the grounds, which makes sense given that the eatery is part of the design-driven Riva Lofts apartments, AKA Wallpaper* magazine’s Best Hotel for 2008. Tucked beside the river and opposite the Cascine park, never before have I ventured into the Isolotto neighbourhood to review an eatery. My bad, I think to myself, as the week’s tiredness is assuaged by the natural setting, the high ceilings and bare brick walls of the former late-nineteenth-century tobacco factory and the utterly snug touches: Persian rugs, velvet drapes, coffee table books, upcycled vintage furniture and rustic fireplace.
Open for dinner on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays (as well as for Sunday lunch), Chef Berlendis is clear about his intentions: “My aim is to bring back the flavours, colours and aromas that make people happy.” And happy is how we feel as the capable and chilled Camilla places the pillowy chicken liver mousse on the fine linen table setting. Served on currant bread, the unctuousness is cut through by apple vinegar and the nuttiness of roasted hazelnuts lends substance. I swear ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of Music starts playing in my head with just one bite of this seductive starter.
Conversation is low, and yet the handful of tables are all occupied, half English, half Italian speakers, a linguistic melange that can be explained by the adjacent lofts, also designed by Florence-born architect Claudio Nardi. “We wish to provide a subtle, intense and uncommon experience,” Nardi explains. “Riva Kitchen wants to become even more of a home to guests, a sophisticated yet homely gathering place that’s relaxed, natural and intimate for locals, travellers and expats.”
We’re sitting nearest to the kitchen, which means we smell the pasta courses before they arrive: for my other half comes a toothsome and tummy-filling saffron tagliatelle tossed with the season’s earthy porcini mushrooms and swirled with burrata, while I’m head over heels about the ricotta and chive-stuffed tortelli unusually presented on beef carpaccio and a dusting of intense kampot pepper. Generous helpings, which we what we have here, are always a reassuring sign of a neighbourhood restaurant with the right aspirations.
The pinot nero from Alto Adige is a lovely companion to our considered meal, although a longer, more studied wine list is, I’m told, in the works. Either way, the mains regain our attention: succulent pork belly served with shiitake mushrooms sustainably grown from coffee grounds and a crispy chicken leg whose potential fattiness is offset by the welcome freshness of an orange, radicchio and pine nut salad dotted with a 25-year-old balsamic vinegar from Modena.
Often averse to desserts, Riva Kitchen is a place to indulge. Not too sweet and unafraid to embrace a savoury edge, the dark chocolate mousse drizzled with mint oil and sprinkled sparingly with salt flames vanished all too mysteriously from the glass.
If you’re looking for somewhere homely and classy this winter where produce is treated with respect and panache, add Riva Kitchen to the list. Doubtless you’ll be back time and time again with the changing of the seasons.
Riva Kitchen at Riva Lofts
Via Baccio Bandinelli 98, Florence
Open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights + Sunday lunch
Reservations +39 055 7130272 / email@example.com
This review was written based on a dining experience kindly offered to The Florentine.