Riviera Bistro, 265 High St, Acton, London W3 9BY
11 April 2016
A pleasant spring evening brings us to Acton for Croatian food. Spirits are high, with Croatia a long-favoured holiday destination for at least two thirds of our party. Memories abound of a rainbow of home-made liqueurs, roasted sheep’s head, stuffed cabbage and seafood so fresh it’s still trying to swim.
We find Steve sitting in the window, looking ready as ever. He’s already checked the menu in search of Zagorski štrukli, as recommended by his Croatian friend Niko. It’s not available, but the Riviera Bistro does offer pleasant Croatian pop music, folky, with accordions, and a warm welcome – a smiling, motherly approach, and a sense of someone eager to share the food of their homeland with you. It’s a shame, therefore, that there’s no-one here but us. Business is bad in the area, we are told, and they are pleased we have travelled to find them.
There’s no Croatian wine available today, so we take French, then get some Slivovitsa to go alongside it. This plum brandy is sweet but not syrupy, and we choose Sir od Dalmacije (slabs of Dalmatian cheese) as hors d’oeuvres. The cheese is pleasant, if a little mild in flavour, but is well complemented with prosciutto and olives. We add Prženi kolutići lignje (deep-fried calamari), with high expectations, since it’s a common dish out there and – it’s calamari. Not bad, but tending slightly towards the rubbery.
For mains we order Pašticada, a dish of slow cooked beef served with gnocchi, and Pileća prsa u šugu, chicken breast with oyster mushroom sauce and roast potato chunks. The pašticada sauce is very intense, a rich red-wine reduction with parsley, nutmeg, prunes, and plenty of tomato among other elements. It is quite sweet, very tangy, and quite delicious at first taste, though it overpowers everything on the plate so that meat and gnocchi impart only texture, and it becomes a bit much. The meat itself it a bit stringy, and doesn’t melt as you might hope after a good slow-cook.
The chicken is good, though the sauce is a touch too creamy. Subtlety is not the order of the day, but the oyster mushrooms and penty of pepper add a punch of flavour that keeps things interesting.
We conclude with Rožata, a Dalmatian creme caramel that proves creme caramel is similar the world over, and Knedle sa šljivama, sweet plum dumplings made with a fried shell of potato, which are the absolute star of the show, warm, comforting, and very moreish. This is accompanied by a digestif of Orahovica walnut schnapps, a smooth Croatian classic that should really be served with every meal.
The Riviera Bistro serves solidly-made Croatian food, and is worth seeking out for anyone with a taste for the Dalmatian coast. It isn’t the slickest iteration of this cuisine, but it certainly offers all the right flavours.