Is it just me, or is taking a Tube from Barbican to Oxford Street at lunchtime rather like stepping into some sort of Dr Who TARDIS and emerging in a totally different universe? When I board, I am surrounded by people in dark suits, pencil skirts, Thomas Pink blouses and serious expressions. When I emerge, it is into a world of meandering tourists, wannabe IT-girls in precarious heels, creative types with Macs, and canoodling couples in the sunshine. It feels like a mini-break to Mars than a lunch hour
The reason for my midday TARDIS trip is to pay a long overdue visit to the much-discussed Bob Bob Ricard for a Posh Lunch organised by my friend Niamh of Eat Like a Girl to try the restaurant's July lunchtime special. For the month of July Bob Bob Ricard is promoting the fact that their house Champagne is Pol Roger (rather than, say, cheap cava!). Order two courses (starter and main; or main and dessert) and you will get a glass of Pol Roger for free (usually priced at £11.50). What food blogger can resist this sort of enticement? Don't know – but I can tell you who couldn't resist: Niamh, Denise, Helen, Ailbhe, Petra, Dan, Charlie and Magnus were all in attendance.
Bob Bob Ricard is billed as London's only all-booth deluxe diner,and stepping inside evokes the feel of a huge luxury train carriage, albeit a train carriage from a far more glamorous Art Deco-ish era. I am already feeling a little louche, skipping off for what promises to be an extended lunch in the middle of the work day, and this feeling is only bolstered by the decor, the chandeliers, the antique morrored ceiling, and the "Press for Champagne" buzzers at each table. We kick off with a signature rhubarb gin & tonic which is the perfect drink for a hot summer's day – tangy with rhubarb and endearingly pink. In fact, it's a perfect match for the staff's blazers, and I did find myself wondering how job interviews at BBR go. "Yes you will be required to wear the uniform every day. No, we do not care that it makes you look like the love-child of Barbapapa and the Pink Panther. Look, do you want this job or not?". The mind boggles.
Niamh had wisely booked us into the Owner's Salon, a secluded dining area that currently contains the only non-booth seating in the restaurant. It feels more like an eccentric gentlemen's club than a restaurant, with a killer chandelier (pictured), some abstract art (more pink!) and a collection of random objets – as well as a flurry of champagne buzzers! The menu is a tour de force of luxe comfort foods and as the restaurant serves from late breakfast until the wee hours, dishes range from eggs Florentine to chicken Kiev, to a knickerbocker glory for dessert, to some Russian touches (a nod to one of the owners' Russian heritage) like caviar with blinis and zakuski canapés. There's also rather a lot of truffles and foie gras – kind of like the recession never happened. In fact, I would say that if truffles do not float your boat, you might consider dining elsewhere. Luckily, they DO float my boat, so I was in exactly the right place.
Up first is a starter of Russian salad with a quail's egg and generous shavings of truffle, accompanied by a shot of Russian Standard vodka, chilled to -18C. To make sure that we ingest this in the correct sequence, co-owner Leonid himself drops by our table to explain that we are to take a forkful of the salad (including some shaved truffle) in one hand and the vodka in the other; then down the vodka at a gulp and immediately eat the forkful of salad. We all gamely follow these instructions and I have to say, the combined effect is electrifying. The vodka is so pure and so cold that it bears no resemblance to the ghastly stuff I used to drink as a student – it has almost no taste, but as the salad and truffle slips down my throat, the warming effect of the vodka seems to amplify the flavour of the food. It is a very pleasant sensation indeed. Although truffles are sometimes both depressingly flavourless and surplus to requirements of a dish, here they are neither, and the indefinable musky flavour of the truffle is perfect with the crunchy, mayonnaisey salad. A sublime dish.
Although much of the menu is tempting, between our table of ten we home in on only three different dishes. Obviously there is a flurry of retro-tastic chicken Kievs (pictured below, served on fresh tomatoes with a potato and sweetcorn mash), as well as one veal Holstein (breaded veal with a fried quail egg, anchovies and capers). As it is swelteringly hot outside, I opt for something cool and tempting on the specials menu: cold roast veal salad with tuna sauce – basically their take on vitello tonnato. This turns out to be a delight – veal done to pink perfection, a cream sauce that's deliciously but indefinably flavoured with tuna, and a generous salad of cress and cherry tomatoes (dressed with a hint of truffle oil??). All very successful dishes, washed down with a glass of the delicious Pol Roger house Champagne.
But the best part is arguably still to come: dessert. Here, we are spoilt for choice, with desserts ranging from the vaguely chic to the guilty pleasure. As a creature of habit (an because I think pistachio ice cream provides a reasonable barometer of any kitchen's competence!), I go for the warm chocolate fontant with pistachio ice cream – and I am not disappointed. The fondant is properly bittersweet with a properly molten centre, and the ice cream tastes of pistachios, not almond essence. Hurrah! My neighbour Denise goes for the striped strawberries and cream soufflé (pictured) which is light and redolent with fresh strawberries; while on my left, Charlie opts for the ice cream. I taste his salted butter caramel and instantly swoon – this is definitely what I will have if I return! But the major menu envy hits when Dan gets his dessert, the aptly-named chocolate glory. This comes to the table as an orange-sized chocolate sphere dusted with gold and accompanied by some fresh raspberries. So far so average. But then, in an inspired piece of tableside theatre, the waiter brings a little jug of hot chocolate sauce which he pours over the sphere, melting it until the passion fruit jelly and chocolate mousse inside is revealed. Think Dali does dessert (maybe the Persistence of Chocolate?). We're all entranced by the spectacle, and Dan confirms that it's delicious too.
And then the show is over for me, barring a shot of good espresso and the bill, as I have to catch my TARDIS back to Planet Normal Life.
If you are looking for Nouvelle Cuisine, or interesting ethnic food, or health food, or subtly understated food, then this is not the place for you. But if you are looking for posh nursery food, a well-priced wine list, a menu that harks back to the greed-is-good days of caviar and truffles, and the feeling that you are doing something vaguely naughty, then Bob Bob Ricard should be your first port of call – especially for the month of July when you can feel louche for less.
Thanks very much to Niamh for organising and to Bob Bob Ricard for making us feel so welcome!
Bob Bob Ricard
1 Upper James Street
Tel: 020 3145 1000