Food without memory is just digestion

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Riva degli Etruschi - Live like a Lordling!

Back in the days of our betters, Gentle Reader, it was the want of the heirs to aristocratic fortunes to spend some time travelling to the Continent after the rigors of Oxford and Cambridge in something affectionately known as the Grand Tour. While the routes and ramblings of the Tour were as wide and varied as the participants, one of the "must-sees" of the journey was Florence (that gem of Tuscany!). 
And as befits the English colonial mentality, this led to hordes of Englishmen settling in and around Florence from the start of the 19th Century. While one expects that this resulted in a calamitous reduction in the collective IQ of the City of Leonardo and Michelangelo, it likely also gave rise to much more appropriate levels of sarcasm, pomposity, and general spontaneous gaiety (as shown in this portrait of Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland). Yes, those Spencers - including Winston, and Diana. Seems all together logical really ...

Happily, it also brought about the birth of bistecca Florentina (T-Bone steak) as said lordlings would demand their pound of flesh (and pay handsomely for the privilege). What they didn't realize was that the beef was actually only a by-product of the leather industry and they could have had it for the price of offal...

All of which is apropos of nothing except that Riva degli Estruschi has become part of Your Humble Correspondent's piccolo Grand Tour of Tokyo's Italian restaurants. And the name translates as "The Hills of Tuscany".

Housed in a purpose-built facility in the quieter back streets of Minami Aoyama, Riva is at once a joy and a rather imposing sight where those of my ilk wonder whether we're "right" enough to win entry. But after one battles through the admittance procedures, the dining spaces are bright and airy and redolent with Tuscan motifs and accouterments. Service is suitably Italian bipolar, hovering between genuine joy and sullen resentment but always prompt and correct.

The cooking at Riva degli Estruschi is superb. Simplicity is paramount in the Tuscan culinary practice [see this excellent article], which characteristic endears it to Your Humble Correspondent. Riva makes this simplicity into a virtue, and brilliantly highlights seasonality together with some sprezzatura to make the arrival of each dish a small discovery and a wholesome joy in its own right. Spencerian really ...

As befits an area so saturated with glory, Tuscany is home to some grand DOC including Chianti, San Gimignano, and Brunello - and of course the Super Tuscans. So the wine list at Riva is extensive, ebullient, and expensive. But grand, in the best Medici fashion.

One fears, Gentle Reader, that it is best to dine at Riva on somebody else's credit card. It is therefore appropriate to go with colleagues and visitors... or an English aristocrat.

And should you happen on a chortling little fat man, perhaps with a cigar and glass of bubbly, do the right thing and send over a bottle of the best!

Pip! Pip!

Riva degli Etruschi: 3-15-12 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo (t: 03-3470-7473)
Rating: Food: 7/10; Tuscaniness: 8/10; Service: 7/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price-Performance: 7/10. Total: 36/50 (3 Forks)

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