Riviera restaurant promises new flavour for Sparks Street

The Riviera will soon enliven Sparks Street — though more in the spirit of the vintage luxury Buick than the Mediterranean coast.

Matthew Carmichael and Jordan Holley, the winning chefs who brought El Camino and Datsun to Elgin Street in recent years, hope to open a finer dining restaurant, to be called The Riviera, in mid- to late May. The team has been working on the 1920s Art Deco building at 62 Sparks St., near Elgin, since November and offered a glimpse inside the construction site on Monday.

The building, which once housed a CIBC and, more recently, Ian Kimmerly Stamps, has a soaring 50-foot white plaster tray ceiling, marble on the grey-and-white panelled walls, brass fixtures and massive windows that let in plenty of light front and back. An open stainless steel kitchen area, 70-foot-long brass bar and banquettes with lamps on the tables are being installed.

“We had been looking at a space on Somerset Street, but when we looked at this we immediately fell in love with it,” says Holley, who has worked with Carmichael since their days at Social and a pop-up at Mellos. “We’re definitely keeping the Art Deco style, putting in some great chandeliers and original art. We hope it will bring life to this end of Sparks Street, and maybe attract some other businesses.”

With interior design help from Ottawa’s Linebox Studio — also responsible for the decor at El Camino, Datsun and Fauna Restaurant — the old bank manager’s office will become a private dining room for 10 to 12, while the old vault on the main floor will house unisex washrooms with a lounge area outside. A vault on the lower level will be used as a wine cellar and kitchen for making charcuterie in house. A second bar will eventually be added on the lower level, down a marble staircase with a curving metal Art Deco-banister.

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Holley says that while he’d describe the popular El Camino and Datsun as “bars with really good food,” the 105-seat Riviera on Sparks “will have more attention to detail with the food.”

“It will be casual fine dining, where you can come in a suit, but also feel comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt. Nothing will be over $35 to $37.”

He and general manager Craig Douglas said they expect the new spot will attract a downtown political crowd, as well as visitors staying at nearby hotels such as the Château Laurier and Westin.

“I would imagine that we will attract the Hy’s crowd, especially at lunch,” said Douglas, who said the restaurant will offer “a really good wine program, by the glass and by the bottle, at approachable price points, but some heavy hitters as well.”

The Riviera will open at 7 or 8 a.m., with a espresso machine on one end of the long brass bar and take-out house-made pastries available. It will also be open for lunch and dinner six days a week, possibly also for brunch on Sunday.

“I’m also hoping it’s a place where the (restaurant) industry wants to hang out,” said Holley. “I”m personally hoping for a late-night crowd too.”

The Riviera will also have an outdoor patio on Sparks Street with seating for about 40.

Holley said the menu will include some greatest hits from their days at Social, including Carmichael’s black cod with carrot purée and Holley’s smoked short ribs on white-corn polenta, as well as “a really great steak frites” and “a really good tomato salad.”

He said the menu “will also have a little bit of an Italian influence” with the help of a $16,000 pasta extruder they’ve ordered from Italy.

“It will have a strong vegetable focus,” said Holley, noting they will buy produce from local growers such as Wakefield’s Juniper Farm, Carp’s Acorn Creek and North Gower’s Rideau Pines.

As for the restaurant’s name, Holley said he and Carmichael threw around a few possibilities, but decided to stick with the car theme.

“Also, it references that we’re near the river. But Matt and I both love the ’70s-era cars. Matt has a 1970s El Camino. If I could find a Riviera in good shape, I’d definitely get it.”