db Eats: Bob Bob RicardBy Lucy Shaw
A good restaurant is one that transports you from the humdrum of everyday life into another world – a temporary cocoon of comfort. Diner deluxe Bob Bob Ricard is such a place.
From the moment the black cloaked doorman ushers you in, the journey begins.
Designed by David Collins, who previously prettified The Wolseley, Bob Bob Ricard’s lavish interiors evoke an Edwardian Orient Express carriage, from the plush midnight blue booths complete with pleated lampshades and velvet curtains, which allow for intimacy amidst the buzz, to the smoked mirrors and brass railings running from booth to ceiling.
Table tops are marble, equipped with an electric socket for the silver toasters brought out at breakfast and during afternoon tea, and a golden “Press for Champagne” button.
Cubist chandeliers hang from a high Venetian-mirrored ceiling, while walls, covered in paper fashioned from Japanese book bindings, are festooned with ancestral portraits, the subjects of which gaze haughtily into the middle distance.
Throwing gender stereotypes out the train window, waiters wear pale pink jackets and ties while waitresses sport turquoise waistcoats.
Russian owner, Leonid Shutov, is keen to please. Every last detail is considered, from the pink and white placemats, menus and plates etched with the BBR emblem, to the pink and gold coasters – even the water bottles have a pink and white label. Attention to detail is fastidious, each intricacy adding to the pleasure of the experience. Unable to resist the lure of the Champagne buzzer, I press it excitedly, feeling momentarily transported from train to plane.
Seconds later, our waitress appears and tempts us into two glasses of rich yet refreshing Pol Roger NV – Churchill, I’m sure, would have loved buzzing for his favourite fizz. Our feast begins with a taster platter of Zakuski (Russian canapés) taken with a shot of Kauffman 2008 Selected Vintage Vodka served at a brain-freezing -18ºC in a charming cut crystal glass. Among the coin-sized Zakuski is a communion host of creamy foie gras topped with shaved black truffle, quail egg mayonnaise nestled in a lettuce leaf with a razor-thin slither of salty anchovy, and a tiny white dish filled with jellied ox tongue that recalls the meaty interior of a pork pie.
A duo of exquisitely executed cold starters arrives shortly after: a flamboyant take on the ever-popular beetroot and goat’s cheese salad, and a textured venison tartare. The paper-thin beetroot shavings resemble rose petals, with fluffy goat’s cheese sandwiched in between like cream. The meaty medallion of venison meanwhile, is smooth, subtle, pure and lovely. It whispers deer rather than shouting its origins from the plate. Resting on top is a raw quail egg, its yellow innards invitingly on display, begging to be drizzled on the meat. While the egg adds lubrication, drops from an accompanying bottle of Tabasco give a vivifying kick of heat.
Nicolás, our French waiter, urges us to try the three cheese soufflé, made with Parmesan, Wigmore and Shropshire blue, served with a peanut-flecked apple and endive salad. Bob Bob Ricard is fond of apple – it weaves its refreshing way into a large number of dishes as the garnish of choice. Also present in the soufflé is a ghostly trace of truffle. If dishes don’t visibly contain truffle, they are redolent with the ghosts of truffles past. Spewing forth from its ramekin like a Mount Etna eruption, the light and fluffy soufflé’s meringue-like form reminds me fondly of a cheesy baked Alaska.
Alongside the soufflé, we’re served a duo of scallops resting on discs of apple served with grainy black pudding and a truffle dressing. The scallops are pleasingly meaty, but for £13.25, more than two would have been preferable. To wash them down, Nicolás recommends a bottle of 2007 Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay from Auckland – a full-bodied, creamy white with hints of lime and limestone. Tightly woven and beautifully balanced on the palate, notes of honeysuckle, orange water and Brazil nut are given weight by the judiciously judged oak.
The wine list is incredibly fairly priced, with a maximum mark-up of £50 per bottle added to the trade price, meaning many bottles are cheaper than high-end retailers. BBR is also the only place in the UK offering Château d’Yquem by the glass – the 1998 vintage is currently on sale for £26.75. I digress. Our main event is a slab of crispy suckling pork belly in a (gasp) truffle gravy dotted with glistening globes of apple sauce. The belly meat is achingly tender, while the crunchy cracking adds texture, proving a great match for the Kiwi Chardonnay.
Desserts are suitably decadent and worth leaving room for, though this shouldn’t be hard, as portion sizes are miniscule, fit only to fill up diners of Borrowers proportions. My companion’s Eton mess arrives neatly packed into what looks like an ice pink bath bomb drenched in strawberry sauce. I opt for the trio of homemade ice cream, the waitress kindly accommodating my request that all three of the trio be salted caramel.
Bob Bob Ricard is a one off. Interpreting classic British dishes like prawn cocktail and chicken kiev with a Russian twist, hat tips to the owner’s homeland can be found in frequent caviar cameos on the menu. While portions are small and prices high, there are few restaurants in London that offer such escapism. Clasped in its welcoming bosom, the restaurant takes you on a journey back to an age of elegance – a flight of fancy that requires a vivid imagination to get lost in, but a voyage worth taking. When we reach our final destination and disembark, having stepped out of the fantasy, I feel a pang of sadness, as I make my way home down the sodden Soho street.
Bob Bob Ricard, 1 Upper James St, London W1F 9DF; Tel: +44 (0)20 3145 1000; a meal for two with wine costs around £150.