DINING AT RIGA’S BEST RESTAURANT, VINCENTS
On my recent weekend away to Riga, I had my taste buds tantalised by one of the Baltics’ well-acclaimed dining scenes, Restorans Vincents.
The restaurant is situated in the embassy district, a stones throw from the Art Nouveau area and is widely known as one of the best restaurants in the Baltics amongst international critics and locals alike. In fact it boasts an A-list celebrity following with The Queen, HRH Prince Charles, Elton John, the Emperor of Japan and Heston Blumenthal (to mention a few), who have all experienced Vincent’s haute Cuisine.
Vincents opened its doors back in April 1994, headed by British-born Latvian chef, Martins Rītinš. Although Rītinš has now retired his legacy still lives on at Vincents as from 1st July 2017, the restaurants management was taken over by the European champion sommelier, and M’Âitre de, Raymond Tomsons, with whom Rītinš had worked since 2000. The current head chef, Aleksandrs Nasikailovs, has worked his way up the ranks at Vincents and maintained the high quality offered by his predecessor.
Vincents has a close relationship with Latvia’s organic farmers and sources ingredients for the menu directly from the farmers, where possible. Rītinš philosophy was to use only the best and freshest produce therefore allowing the menu to change to reflect the crop during that particular season. Ingredients are also sourced from specialist areas of the world to enhance and promote local ingredients such as Suffolk Lamb, Langoustines from the Faroe Islands and even Amadei chocolate from Tuscany.
Vincents is located in the ground level of a stunning Art deco building and as you enter you are hit by the stylish minimalist design. There are three separate dining rooms and we were seated in the first light and airy room with the most romantic table the restaurant has to offer. There was a contemporary white graphic forming a wall between our room and the next and white leather seating and dark wood tables were strategically dispersed around the room with ambient lighting. Adjacent to our table was a window containing a sunken lit lamp to add that touch of romantic light once the sun set.
Vincents has received many accolades during its time including The White Guide (Best Restaurants in the Nordics) classified it as the second top restaurant in the Baltics, after The Hall in Talinn taking first spot.
Our waitress for the evening, Māra showed us to our table and asked of our preference of pre-dinner drinks and a gut instinct prompted both Dr C and I that we should order the Pisco Sour, which is one of our favourite cocktails. It absolutely didn’t disappoint and I’m even going to have to go as far as to say it was the best Pisco Sour out of Peru!
Whilst sipping on our perfect cocktail we munched on a snack of paper thin potato seasoned crisps, which hung off a tree resembling leaves, which contained a small detailed leaf in the middle. It was evident from this point the level of detail was already pretty impressive.
We were shown the specials of the day but Dr C and I skipped on the specials and tasting menu on this occasion and headed for some special a la carte selections.
Once we’d picked our starters and mains, Vincents Sommelier came and selected wines for us. A 2014 Chilean Chardonnay (Vina Leyda Lot 5) from the Leyda Valley for myself and a full bodied 2012 Argentinian red from Mendoza, Clod de Los Siete.
We were soon presented with a pre-starter of Sea Urchin Pudding. The Sea urchins were sourced from the Faroe islands and were contained in the shell in the form of a light and airy mousse accompanied with white chocolate pearls. The shell was placed on a circular ring of white pebbles with dry ice underneath. There was a small amount of hot water present to melt the dry ice and create a refined sophisticated Halloween theatrical effect! The most divine subtle flavours filled our palettes and we were in complete awe of the aesthetics, theatre and quality of this dish.
Our next dish was entitled ‘The Chefs Surprise’ and boy was it a surprise and a half! A spherical dry ice sculpture (known as the ice balloon) was placed in front of us and a blow torch was used by Māra to make a whole in the ball to reveal two delicate portions of lightly flavoured crab meat parcels wrapped in avocado cannoli, which was eaten with the coriander twined twig chopsticks on the side.
The dish even had an accompanying story to add to its dramatism. Apparently the student chefs were asked to place the ice sphere in the fridge and instead put it in the freezer creating the balloon. In actual fact after Dr Cs questioning, Māra came clean and said that an artist makes the ice balloons, which melt in three days! The pretty parcels inside were as delicate and deliciously flavoured as expected.
Dr C chose the seared yellowfin tuna in nori leaf, which contained fresh wasabi from Winchester, shitake and yuzu sauce.
Whereas I opted for white asparagus, which contained wild garlic pesto, olive oil caviar, morel mushrooms, Comte cheese and a burnt butter aioli.
Silence was golden as we savoured each and every flavour on those plates and were in awe of the luxurious artistry we were presented with.
My main was a no brainer, a risotto cooked to perfection using acquerello carnaroli rice with an indulgent summer truffle.
Dr C grew up in the countryside of Suffolk and therefore of course had to have the grilled saddle of Suffolk lamb, which was accompanied with a colourful beetroot, rosemary and lamb jus.
Following our mains, it was time for some more theatrics and story-telling. A mousse like mixture was sprayed out of a spout onto dry ice and within seconds it set and was presented as a palette cleanser lollypop! These lollypop flavours were revealed as Japanese Matcha tea and rhubarb. Absolute genius idea, more so to two very impressed scientists waiting to stick them straight in our mouths like two kids in a candy shop! This was the grown up version though!
The penultimate course incorporated kalamansi, a citrus lime fruit from the Philippines, which was encapsulated in Amadei chocolate and then covered in Meringue. Māra presented this to us and added some Absinthe and added some extra drama with the flames provided by the handy blow torch. Amadei chocolates are an artisan chocolate manufacturing company based in Tuscany. Amedei Porcelano is known as the world’s most expensive chocolate. The cocoa originates from a Venezuelan region called Chuao.
Dessert was a no-brainer for two people who love coffee and chocolate, yes we picked Vincent’s interpretation of the classic, Tiramisu. The deconstructed dish, sponge base, chocolate pearls and a helping of warm caramel poured over the top. What more could we want…
Well a perfectly made filter coffee at the table of course. I was blown away by the attention to detail including the amount of coffee used, the diligence of the sommelier with the water at just the right temperature and finally the presentation. The first time I’ve been served a coffee in a wine glass!
The final party gift given to the lady is a little bag of sweet treats, which can be enjoyed for breakfast and to extend that pleasure of dining at Vincents just a little bit longer.
With that in tow, it was time for carriages! There’s no need to book transport when dining at Vincent’s as your ride back is taken care of courtesy of their lovely driver and his gleamingly comfortable Merc!
Vincents is utter perfection. It’s innovative, creative, theatrical, quality, informative with its cuisine with an outstanding level of service to match. It is most definitely a stand out dining experience (without any compromise in taste) that has left a lasting impression in my memory.
Many thanks to the staff at Vincents for giving us a phenomenal evening of great service and food and of course compliments to the chef!
Elizabetes iela 19
Centra rajons. Rīga
Tel +371 67 332 830