With its white gloved waiters, Persian carpets, and formal atmosphere, dining at Renomme is like stepping back in time into a more glamorous age.
Riga is a city with a surprisingly rich history, and the buildings of its historic centre are vestiges of the opulent lifestyles lived across the centuries by its upper class. We were fortunate enough to get a taste of this while staying at the Gallery Park Hotel. We were enjoying the experience immensely with the antique furniture and decoration making us feel like we were living like Latvian nobility. The only thing missing was food, but luckily the Gallery Park Hotel came through on this front as well.
Renomme, the in-house restaurant at the Gallery Park Hotel has consistently been ranked among the best in Europe, and in keeping with the rest of the hotel it specializes in providing an aristocratic experience. The food consists mainly of local Latvian recipes, and some of these have been served in mansions and palaces for hundreds of years.
We went for lunch, and were greeted by one of the white-gloved members of staff. As we had suspected it would be, the dining room was thick with tradition and formality. This was not a bad thing, and in fact it felt like were getting an authentic Latvian experience. All around were paneled wooden doors, sturdy cabinets, draped windows, and framed illustrations of Riga’s historic buildings. Above were chandeliers and painted ceilings, while below the floor was cloaked with Persian carpets. Meanwhile, our fellow diners were all well dressed and looked important. We had heard that Renomme attracts an elite clientele, including dignitaries and celebrities – yet even with their stature, they ambiance stays comfortable and inviting.
The chefs here use only the finest local ingredients sourced from the surrounding area – just as it has been done for centuries. To ensure this, the menu changes four times a year depending on what is available. Latvian cuisine has not developed much of a reputation beyond its own borders, but a quick glance at what was on offer (and what was already being enjoyed by other customers) was all we needed to discover that it clearly has some interesting dishes in its culinary traditions. Names like ‘herring’s wedding’, ‘Borsch – the king of soups’, and ‘flames of love’ jumped out at us, and we were starting to get excited to discover some new things.
The discovering started with drinks however, and the extremely knowledgeable waiter recommended us some great wines to pair with our meal. One of these was a 2013 vintage Bock Villanyi Porta Geza from Hungary. Knowing how difficult it can be to get Hungarian wine outside of Hungary, we were impressed!
Next up were the starters which were hearty and interesting. We had pork in aspic, which was a cold, gelatinous dish – a bit like a French terrine, yet without actual gelatin (it gets the texture from the cooking process). It was presented beautifully on a black slate with wisps of carrot balancing delicately on top, and slices of beetroot surrounding it. The other dish was the Baltic herring which was even more impressive to look at. Served in a conical glass which sat in a bowl of ice, it was a colourful tower consisting of many different layers. Egg sat on top of beets, carrots, then herring and potato. This was then garnished, and came with a pink sauce made from mayo and beet juice.
So far, so excellent! It seemed that Latvians know how to eat well, and they certainly knew how to put their ingredients together in interesting ways. The combinations of things like fish, egg, and beetroot – and all of them being served cold – are not ones encountered very often, so we were enjoying the new experience.
It was the main course where Renomme really showed its class though. We ordered the trout, and it was brought out whole on a plate garnished with dill. The white gloved waiter placed it on the table, and then proceeded to carve it in front of us with precision. It was a nice touch, and as we had so many times at this hotel and restaurant, it felt like we were being treated like nobility from another era.
The whole experience was charming. While fine dining is increasingly popular, the classic service that has gone along with it for centuries is getting harder and harder to find. While we both enjoy being able to eat well in a comfortable environment, it is pleasing to know that places like this still exist. There is something timeless about the linen tablecloths and elegantly dressed waiters which makes you feel special. You won’t find molecular gastronomy here, or rare ingredients sources from the farthest reaches of the planet. Instead you get hearty portions, period charm, and the chance to discover Latvia’s underrated cuisine.
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