Riva is the upmarket restaurant at Rottnest Lodge on Rottnest Island. Once a prison, Rottnest Lodge now offers some of the island's premium accommodation, and Riva Restaurant was launched in 2012 to appeal to the lodge's well-heeled customers.
It's also open to budget-conscious travellers like our family. During our recent Christmas holiday on Rottnest, we stayed in a family room at Kingstown Barracks Hostel. While the hostel was very much the affordable accommodation option, we did treat ourselves and our two sons (aged 9 and 11) to a couple of nice meals out. One of those was dinner at Riva, which we reached by cycling 10 minutes from the hostel through a gorgeous island evening.
Riva is adjacent to the lodge's pool area, with both indoor and outdoor dining. We arrived at 6pm when the lights had just started to twinkle around the pool, and it made a very pretty picture.
Though we'd asked to be seated outside, we ended up indoors. We didn't mind, but we did wonder why this decision had been made. Another table with children was seated next to us, so it may have been a policy of grouping families together and leaving those who want a romantic dinner to dine outside in peace.
In some ways, Riva is aiming for old-school formal, with crisp white tablecloths, a maitre'd, and waiters who shake out your napkins and put them on your lap. But balancing this formality are a bright and airy decor and a menu that tends to favour contemporary Italo-Australian.
Our entree choices ranged from light options like olives with feta ($8) and garlic pizza bread ($8.50) to substantial offerings such as seafood chowder ($17.50), pumpkin and goats cheese salad ($16.50) and oysters ($3 each). We briefly contemplated the oysters but were put off when our waiter told us that tempura oysters were unavailable because the restaurant didn't 'have any in at the moment'. Given that he said that they could still do oysters kilpatrick, we weren't sure what that said about the tempura option (do they arrive pre-battered?).
We ended up choosing a serve of the feta olives and a garlic pizza bread to start. For mains, we had plenty of choice, ranging from gourmet pizzas (around $20), to meat (e.g. steak, pork belly, chicken breast -- all around the $30 mark), pastas ($25-30) and salads ($8-15).
My sons chose pizzas, while my husband ordered the seafood paella and I took an entree option of grilled garlic prawns on a sweet-corn blini, accompanied by seasonal steamed vegetables. Despite the five-page wine list (ranging from $8/glass to $300 for a bottle of Dom Perignon), we stuck with water for free.
Our entrees came within 15 minutes, and both were good, though the olives would be better shared by a larger group (there's only so many olives you can eat in one sitting!). Our mains followed about half an hour later. Our sons' pizzas were good -- light and fluffy, good-quality toppings, and adjusted as requested to suit our sons' tastes.
My garlic prawns were pleasant but not wonderful, the prawns themselves not being overly impressive. However, the blini and its accompanying tomato relish were tasty. I also enjoyed my vegetables, though their buttery dressing was not served on the side as I'd asked.
My husband enjoyed the first mouthfuls of his paella but then encountered what he described as 'raw' calamari. He raised this with the waiter, who immediately took the dish back to the kitchen. On his return, he explained that the chef said the calamari was meant to be like that, but they would prepare a new serve to my husband's liking. My husband enjoyed the replacement meal very much, but still finds it hard to believe that the original state of the calamari was intentional.
Riva is charging 5-star prices, and while the decor looks the part, I don't think the food or service are quite there yet (in addition to the mistake with my dressing, we saw numerous meals ferried to tables and then back to the kitchen because of mixups).
On the other hand, the pizzas are reasonably priced, the food is definitely well above average, and all the staff were very welcoming. While it wasn't the meal that we enjoyed most on Rottnest (that honour went to the Rottnest Hotel Bistro), it's certainly a nice place to dine for a treat, especially if you're looking for a quiet and romantic setting.