(editor's note - in summer 2017 head chef Martins Ritins left Vincents).
Vincent's is the grand dame of fine dining in Riga, having opened way back in April 1994. It is situated in a grand building whose neighbours include several embassies. The restaurant has a discreet entrance a few steps down from ground level. The dining room has as a feature a tank containing live langoustines from the Faroe Islands (from the same supplier that Noma uses), an indication that the chef takes the sourcing of ingredients seriously. The emphasis here is on luxury ingredients, many of them imported, though the kitchen does use more local produce such as flounder and eel. There was also a duck press on display, and one dish served here is the duck in the style of Tour d'Argent in Paris, using the same duck supplier.
The head chef here is the charming and well-travelled Martins Ritins. Many of the chefs that have passed through his kitchen have gone on to set up their own restaurants. Starters were priced at €22 to €35, mains €28 to €35, side dishes €5 to €7 and a tasting menu at €105. Someone else was arranging the wine so I did not see the list.
The tasting menu began with buckwheat blinis and Latvian Osetra caviar. It is tricky to score such a simple dish, but the blinis were certainly well made and the caviar had good flavour (15/20). This was followed by brown shrimp with yuzu sauce, avocado, pomelo and a little kale, all served in a cocktail glass. The shrimps had good flavour and were nicely balanced by the acidity of the yuzu and the sharpness of the pomelo, though perhaps the kale was an ingredient too far (15/20).
Next was a large sea snail from the Faroe Islands, flambeed at the table in dashi, fried with Parmesan and yuzu butter. Sea snails can easily be chewy but the ones here were tender, the combination of the comforting flavour of the fried cheese with the hint of freshness of the yuzu an effective one (15/20). Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen and included sourdough and brioche. The ones that I tried had good texture (15/20).
Gotland beef tartare was served in a herring tin with quail egg, ponzu sauce and freshly grated wasabi root supplied from England's solitary wasabi grower (The Wasabi Company in Hampshire), along with anchovy toast. The beef was a cross between Simmental and Angus and was grass fed, its flavour good and with the wasabi bringing its gentle bite of spice, the richness of the meat balanced by the acidity of the ponzu. I would have preferred slightly bolder seasoning but this was certainly a very good dish (16/20).
The Faroe Island langoustines made an appearance next, the tails and claws served with langoustine bisque made with a little tomato, cognac and a touch of chilli, along with fennel, leek and celery. The shellfish was excellent, lightly steamed and having lovely inherent sweetness, their shells being used to make a fully flavoured bisque. It is hard not to enjoy an ingredient of this quality (17/20).
Next were ravioli of foie gras with truffle butter, trompette mushrooms, edible soil of breadcrumbs and olives, alongside fried foie gras and Sicilian Panellerei raisins with twelve year aged balsamic vinegar. The pasta had pleasing texture and the foie gras was of good quality, its richness nicely cut through by the balsamic vinegar, though the dish was not quite hot enough when it arrived (15/20).
Next was a local speciality, pike perch, served with steamed fennel, leek, cod brandade and a sauce of butter and blue mussel veloute. The fish was carefully cooked and the fennel had good flavour, the quite rich sauce going quite well with the fish (15/20). Veal sweetbread was for me the star dish of the meal, from Peters Farm in the Netherlands, served with Jerusalem artichoke purée, artichokes, trompette mushrooms and a Madeira sauce. The sweetbread had lovely texture and flavour, delicately cooked and nicely enhanced by the Madeira sauce, the earthiness of the artichokes an excellent balancing flavour (easily 17/20).
Spheres of kalamanci with egg white and caramelized spelt were flambeed at the table. This came with chicory creme brûlée and chicory ice cream along with milk skin with chicory. This was pleasant enough but for me was not quite in the same league as the savoury courses (14/20). Finally there were a range of Amadei chocolates to go with the coffee.
Service was excellent: professional and attentive. This meal was arranged by a company I was doing some work with so I did not see the bill, but a typical cost per head here might be around €95 (£81). That is quite a lot by Latvian standards but on the other hand the cooking is of a high standard and there is considerable effort put into the ingredient sourcing, with plenty of high quality luxury ingredients appearing on the menu. If you are looking for a grand meal in Riga then this is surely the obvious choice.