Published: May 2011
It was pretty quiet in the Ashford house the other week – we were down to one child at home. So we thought we'd make a fuss of our youngest and take him out to dinner.
Thinking of where to go, I remembered that Riva in Inverness had been our restaurant of choice many years ago. We hadn't been for ages – life, bringing up four children and work had got in the way of the joys of dining out.
So I checked the website and decided it looked as good as I remembered so booked a table for three the following evening.
The decider for young Kyle had come when, on viewing the early-evening menu, he spotted smoked haddock risotto. Nearly a teenager, he knows what he likes and, ever since his older brother enjoyed a smoked haddock risotto on a previous restaurant visit, he'd had a hankering for one.
The early-evening menu is available from 5-6.30pm, which suited us fine as we don't like eating too late. That said, the à la carte menu is available at that time too, if you prefer.
Situated along the banks of the River Ness, opposite the castle, Riva is an ideal spot to enjoy city-centre dining – with a view. The restaurant is stylishly decorated with a contemporary Italian feel.
We were warmly welcomed and taken to our table at the window, before being given our menus and offered drinks. Even at 6pm, the restaurant was getting busy.
The early-evening menu offers four starters, five mains and three desserts plus a cheeseboard, so plenty to choose from. While we waited for our meal, we tucked in to a selection of breads with oil and vinegar. All were superb – I especially liked the tomato bread.
Soup of the day was tomato and basil, so Kyle decided he'd go for that.
Coming in a large bowl, his was probably the biggest of the three starters and he wasn't sure he'd manage it, but he did. Rich and tomatoey, the basil was present but it complemented the flavour rather than overpowering it.
Hubby Martin's eyes had lit up as soon as he saw mussels on the menu; they lit up even more when his huge serving arrived. They are poached in a light tomato broth with fresh herbs and mascarpone. The mussels were succulent and delicious and he sat happily plucking them from their shells before tucking in to the seafood and broth mixture.
I'd chosen bruschetta con fungi – locally sourced mushrooms in a garlic and white wine cream on toasted ciabatta. This was probably the best dish I'd had in a long time. The creamy sauce was not too heavy, the bread crispy, the thinly sliced mushrooms cooked to perfection. I can still taste it – it was "delish", as the kids would say!
I decided a while ago to be a bit more adventurous so, although I would normally avoid a dish with sage, had chosen the Saltimbocca – pan-fried breast of chicken with sage, lemon and Parma ham on pesto-dressed spaghetti. The herb was there, but subtly so, complementing the sweet, moist chicken and al dente spaghetti perfectly. This was turning into the best meal I'd had.
Martin and Kyle had both chosen the smoked haddock risotto which came in a hearty helping. Very rich and creamy, my boy struggled a bit and his dad had to help him out by eating some. But it's no reflection on the dish; he'd just had a big starter and was flagging slightly. I pinched a forkful from his bowl – it was delightful. The combination of the smoked fish, creamy risotto and sweet crunch of garden peas was a match made in heaven.
We were all a bit full and wondered whether or not to have dessert, but even Kyle suddenly found his second wind.
Martin eyed the cheeseboard, which comprises Italian cheeses with oatcakes and a white onion and peppercorn chutney. But, in a break from tradition, he went for the torta di cioccolato e noccida – dark chocolate and hazelnut tart served with clotted cream. I suspect it was the promise of clotted cream that sealed the deal for him, and I had to be quick to claim a wee taste of the tart: crisp pastry with the classic combination of chocolate and hazelnuts, the cream rounding off every mouthful.
It's usually me who goes for a chocolate-based dessert, but I fancied completing the Italian experience with tiramisu. I'd never tried it before as I'm not a huge coffee fan, but again found that it's good to try something different occasionally as I really enjoyed it. This tiramisu was much lighter than I'd expected it to be and rounded off my meal perfectly.
Kyle's panna cotta, which came with a bramble and star anise compôte, was obviously good – he didn't even offer his parents a taste!
We thoroughly enjoyed our taste of Italy and certainly won't be leaving it too long before our next visit to Riva. In fact, Kyle is desperate to try out the upstairs pizzeria very soon.
The food is superb and service excellent – efficient, friendly and not in the least overbearing.
As I paid the bill on the way out I was offered a sample of brownie, but had to pass – that says something for how sated I was.
At £57.60 (including drinks) for three courses for three people, the prices are, I think, excellent for the standard of food and service.
Quality of food: 10
Menu choice: 9
Value for money: 10
Summary: A taste of Italy in the city centre. The food is fantastic; excellent value for money.
4-6 Ness Walk
Inverness IV3 5NE
Tel: 01463 237377