Express & Star

Food review: Neapolitan cuisine at Riva Blu in Birmingham blew our reviewer away

After hearing a rave review of Riva Blu from a colleague a few months ago, the suave Italian immediately flew to the top of my list for restaurants I wanted to visit.

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The Zeppola and Baba Napoletano.

Situated on the corner of Temple Row next to the glamour of The Ivy and opposite the sophisticated offerings of Colmore Row, Riva Blu has its fair share of competition in the form of up-scale restaurants.

However, I was invited to try Riva Blu's new autumn/winter menu that promises to celebrates the authenticity of the Amalfi Coast - and I was completely blown away. Without a doubt, I have a new favourite restaurant - not just in Birmingham, but period.

Entering Riva Blu on a Friday night, we were ushered into a Tiffany-blue leather booth and were immediately greeted by the exuberant and charming Francesco, who treated my partner and I like royalty all evening.

My boyfriend and I have to be very selective in our restaurant choices, because as well as both being vegetarian, he also has an array of different allergies, which often cuts his choices down to one or two dishes on a menu.

However, Francesco immediately reassured him and recommended a selection of dishes from across the menu. For once, my partner had a wide variety of choices - a luxury he often doesn't have.

We started with cocktails: my boyfriend went for his staple drink, an Old Fashioned, which was a perfect blend of sweet and spicy flavours.

I decided to follow Francesco's recommendations - which were spot-on all evening - and chose the Don't Call Me French, a delicate concoction of Absolut Vanilia vodka, nectarine apéritif, blackberry liqueur, pineapple, and lemon, crowned with a purple flower.

The Don't Call Me French cocktail.

This was absolutely divine. We ended up ordering three between us throughout the night and couldn't stop raving about how delicious it was. If you do go to Riva Blu, you must try it. If you want to go out for a cocktail on a Friday night, go to Riva Blu's bar and order one. You won't regret it.

We also went for an Italian staple - the Negroni - and a Baby Blu, a colourful mixture of Bombay Sapphire gin, Italicus bergamot apéritif, Giffard Blue Curaçao, and lemon, which is for people who like their cocktails with a punch.

A Negroni and a Baby Blu.

To start our culinary journey, we shared the Scarpetta for our starter, a sweet tomato and garlic sauce made using tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil of San Marzano, served with two slices of freshly baked bread – one made with olives, while the other was drizzled in olive oil.

Both of the sourdough breads were delicious on their own, and I could have easily eaten half a loaf without anything else with it. However, when we dipped them in the sauce, our eyes rolled back into our heads.

While I wasn’t particularly excited initially by the prospect of a tomato sauce, I really should have been. This concoction was ripe, as if we’d just plucked the tomatos from the trees and mashed them up ourselves.

Already, we were completely blown away by Riva Blu’s food, and we’d only just started our meal.

Scarpetta Con Pomodoro Di San Marzano (sweet tomato and garlic sauce with freshly baked sourdough bread).

For mains, my boyfriend plumped for the Paccheri Ortolana, a mushroom and vegetable ragu with tomato and flat leaf parsley.

This was the highlight of the whole meal for him, which did astound me as he has an incredible sweet tooth, so I assumed he’d be most impressed by the incredible desserts.

However, he found the pasta to be a beautiful dish, with simple but deep and aromatic flavours (Francesco kept telling us, simple is always best). The pasta was perfectly cooked with plenty of flavour, and the dish had an appropriately autumnal taste to it – the mushrooms and vegetables brought out a deep, rich taste, not dissimilar to seasonal stews.

The Paccheri Ortolana: a mushroom and vegetable ragu with tomato and flat leaf parsley.

I was craving a pizza and decided to try a Fiorentina: made of San Marzano tomato, spinach, a free range egg, mozzarella and matured Italian cheese. I’ve tried my fair share of pizza over the last few years due to limited options concerning my boyfriend’s allergies, so I can tell a great pizza from a mediocre one.

Riva Blu’s pizza had a wonderful fluffy dough, with a rich tomato sauce that was complimented perfectly by the creamy cheese and spinach.

The egg cooked into the centre of the pizza also added a wonderful flavour, particularly when cutting into the bright yellow yolk.

The Fiorentina pizza: with San Marzano tomato, spinach, free range egg, mozzarella, and matured Italian cheese.

For sides, we chose baby garlic spinach and potato fries with truffle and pecorino cheese. Garlic is one of our favourite flavours and subtly complimented the green leaves, but there was a spicy kick to the back of the throat when swallowing it – which I must assume was pepper or jalapeños.

As I’m not a fan of heat, I wouldn’t order this again, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work wonders for other diners.

Meanwhile, truffle fries are one of my absolute favourite foods of all time so I can never say no when I see them on a menu. They were perfectly crisp on the outside, with the beautiful taste of the truffle suffusing into the skin, while the insides were wonderfully fluffy.

I’m not joking when I say I could have had nothing but those all night and still had the best meal I’ve had in a long time.

Garlic baby spinach and truffle and cheese potato fries.

Despite already starting to feel full by the time Francesco brought us the dessert menus, we knew we couldn’t say no to something sweet. He recommended two of the Neapolitan desserts – the Baba Napoletano and the Zeppola.

Francesco’s instincts had been spot-on all evening so we happily went along with his suggestions. The Baba Napoletano is a rum-soaked sponge cake, with rum syrup. The pastry is split in two and thick Chantilly cream is piped through the centre.

This was an absolutely remarkable dish. The flavour of the rum was sweet and sensual, without being overly overpowering or sickly, while the pastry was the perfect balance of firm and tender, and the cream was just transcendent: extraordinarily rich, with a subtle hint of vanilla. I had to close my eyes and moan when tasting it. It was simply divine.

The Zeppola was also incredible and was described by Franscesco as "a monster" – it definitely towered ominously on the plate in front of our full stomachs. The soft choux bun was perfectly baked, while filled and topped with vanilla cream and dotted with amarena cherries.

This could make death-row inmates turn to God and weep. The cream was as thick as custard, with the most high-quality delectable vanilla taste, complimented by the wonderfully tart cherries.

The delectable Zeppola: a soft choux bun with vanilla cream and amarena cherries.
The Baba Napoletano: a sponge cake soaked in rum, with rum syrup and Chantilly cream.

With impeccable service and divine food, Riva Blu has already become my favourite restaurant, and one I eagerly hope to return to soon.

Address: 61-63 Temple Row, Birmingham B2 5LS

Contact details: 0121 633 3636


Rating: 10/10

Sample menu:


  • Scarpetta Con Pomodoro Di San Marzano - £9.75

  • Polpo All’insalata (Octopus Salad)- £14

  • Frittatina Cacio E Pepe (Deep Fried Mac N Cheese) - £9.50


  • Paccheri Ortolana - £14.50

  • Fiorentina – £15.50

  • Linguine Frutti Di Mare – £21.50


  • Babà Napoletano – £8.75

  • Zeppola – £8.75

  • Tortino Al Cioccolato – 8.75