Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Bob Bob Ricard, Soho
Bob Bob Ricard is a strange, glittering fantasy world at the best of times, as opulent as Versaille and as superficial as Oz, its chandeliers and emerald green lamps leaving just enough in the light to be beautiful, and just enough in the dark to be inscrutable. It's not so much like stepping back in time as stepping into another universe, or taking a trip on the Hogwarts Express to Wonderland, where bizarre details ("Press for Champagne") lurk at every turn, and charming staff in powder pink uniforms prepare psychedelic cocktails and serve beef soup from a teapot. Returning for the first time after the infamous Vintage Vodka Tasting evening, however, was an even more peculiar experience than normal. Occasional details and tastes would trigger a memory of groggy vodka-laced incident from last month, provoking a hot flush of shame or a sharp uncontrollable guffaw, or very often both at the same time. I'm sure my dining companion thought I was going mad. Perhaps I was.
But I said I'd be back, and here I was, settled into a cosy green booth and sipping on an extraordinarily good rhubarb gin and tonic, sweet and frothed with egg white. A vodka Appletini was equally good, served ice cold and in lovely glassware. Based on this evidence it would be well worth just popping into Bob Bob Ricard's downstairs bar for a cocktail, but then I'm not entirely sure it's possible to just "pop in" to Bob Bob Ricard at all. You never really feel in control of your own actions in this place - you're stealthily manipulated into having a good time, whether you like it or not.
I had specifically returned for the Zakuski - bite size Russian dishes served with ice-cold premium vodka. The pickled herring and boiled potato was as good as I barely remember, and salmon roe on quails egg was a delicious combination of soft egg and salty, bursty roe. Kauffman vintage vodka washed them down far, far too easily, and was again served in very attractive glassware, the immediate sight of which whisked me back a month and to a vision of me trying to decide which of two forkfuls of ox tongue in aspic I was holding up was real and which wasn't. I hope I guessed correctly.
The Bob Bob Ricard burger turned out to be one of the best I've tried in London. I won't go so far as to say this was a surprise - nothing in BBR is a surprise, your expectations are assaulted and confounded so frequently the abnormal becomes normal - but it was certainly welcome. Good quality beef, cooked perfectly medium, and a good strong sesame bun. Word has it that BBR are soon to launch an authentic American burger, using Kraft cheese. Another reason to go back, damn them.
A second main course - a special - of roast veal, foie gras and black truffle jus was simply wonderful. Light, pink veal, sliced into delicate pieces, sat on top of a bed of juicy spinach and beside a generous slab of wobbly, buttery foie. And the black truffle jus was so good (and came in such quantity) I ordered extra bread to soak it all up, only just resisting the temptation to drink it straight out of its silver serving jug. One of the best dishes I've eaten all year, and proof that Bob Bob Ricard seem to be able to master French cuisine as well as they do everything else.
I hardly ever order desserts, but I couldn't leave without trying some of their homemade ice creams, including a delicious salty caramel. I was probably too full to make the most of them, but sadly I didn't have a choice in the matter. The restaurant chose for me.
At the end of the evening, I'd spent too much, drunk too much and eaten far too much, but I can't say I feel too guilty - it was all essentially out of my hands. Bob Bob Ricard is a huge, manipulative, mind-altering experiment in decadence, and if you can relax and surrender yourself to their whims and fancies you are guaranteed a good time. Far too much of a good time, in fact - far too much than is good for you. You may think I'm exaggerating, that I'm a glutton and a hedonist and weak-willed. Perhaps you're right. But if you sat down at a table, plush and inviting and romantically lit, and saw a button shining beside you marked "Press for champagne", can you put your hand on your heart and tell me you wouldn't press it? Honestly?
Didn't think so.