Chef Yoann Le Bihan
Chef Nasser Jeffane
Following the success of Mandarin Oriental, Geneva's pop-up Swiss Chalet last winter, Café Calla – the hotel's main restaurant – has once again been transformed, this time into La Riviera, an evocative Provençal dining experience right here on the banks of the Rhône.
Its decoration and menu are devised to transport you to the regions of Southern France – without the five-hour drive from the city. Billowing white curtains usher guests into a light and airy dining space, reminiscent of the finest Côte d'Azur brasseries. The neutral palette is contrasted by verdant olive trees and a colourful glimpse of life in Le Sud through the vibrant artworks of Nice artist Paulin Nikolli. The latter also act as a conversation starter as you peruse the extensive food and wine menus or enjoy a refreshing apéro and an amuse-bouche of freshly baked bread and tapenade.
Executive Chef Yoann Le Bihan and Chef Nasser Jeffane have collaborated to ensure that the Mediterranean dishes remain true to the region they represent, without being predictable. Indeed, it becomes immediately obvious why Provençale cuisine is said to more closely resemble that of its Italian neighbour than the rest of France. An emphasis on simple, pure ingredients, such as olive oil, white fish and local herbs, means dishes are lighter than you might expect – an effect that is welcome during the summer months.
Boullabaise, a fish stew
Highlights include Marseille's famous fish stew, bouillabaisse. To start, however, I opted for the petite friture d'éperlan et calamar (deep-fried smelt and calamari). It was crispy and fresh, and the accompanying homemade tartare sauce with lemon juice was a match made in heaven. Tasting plates of flavour-packed tomato gazpacho, ratatouille with grilled prawns, and refreshing slices of melon wrapped in prosciutto, were bite-sized delights.
For my main, I chose the dos de cabillaud aïoli et legumes (roasted cod fish fillet, aïoli and vegetables), with a side of artichokes à la barigoule. This richness of this traditional, warm artichoke salad stewed in a buttery white wine sauce was the perfect balance for the simply cooked yet mouth-watering cod. Carnivores needn't despair. There are plenty of standout options for you, too, such as the melt-in-your-mouth, pan-roasted rack of lamb with pommes frites.
Dos de cabillaud aïoli et legumes
I was graciously recommended a glass of white wine – the Bandol, Domaine de Terrebrune. Its citrus and mineral notes flawlessly complemented the white fish and roasted seasonal vegetables. The wine list predominately features wine from Provence, including reds and rosés, but there are also some excellent local Swiss labels.
For dessert I was advised by Chef Jeffane to try his personal favourite – the Tropézienne. Originating from Saint-Tropez in the 1950s, this delicious gâteau is made from layered, sugared brioche and a mix of two types of buttery cream. Try La Riviera's superb interpretation, and it'll soon be your personal favourite, too.
The pop-up La Riviera at Mandarin Oriental, Geneva
La Riviera by Mandarin Oriental runs until the end of September for lunch and dinner