Monday, 14 November 2011
The Rib Room, Knightsbridge
Going to a smart restaurant in one of London's most expensive hotels and then complaining about the prices could be considered one of the more futile crusades a food blogger might engage in. I am certainly not, at least traditionally, the Rib Room's target audience - it's not just that I don't like spending £150 on dinner without a cast-iron guarantee everything will be excellent, it's not even that I feel slightly out of place in this most glitzy of surroundings. It's simply that in a more general sense, the Rib Room isn't "me". I would never have gone had I not been invited, and despite having enjoyed a perfectly decent evening I am almost certain never to go back. There was nothing drastically wrong with anything (well, there was one thing, but more on that later), but I just know there are better ways of spending that kind of money - call it a blessing or a curse.
To be fair to the guys behind the Rib Room, they have clocked on that basing their business model on a group of ageing Belgravia locals isn't a recipe for long-term security and have used a recent refurb as an opportunity to lower their prices to a slightly more egalitarian level. The problem is, whereas before the prices were "offensively high" (a £60 British fillet steak for one sticks in the mind), now they're just "high", and while most of the food we tried was very good, it's still hard to see past the numbers attached to them.
Half a dozen rock oysters were a little too bloated and creamy for my liking - I don't know what it is that occasionally causes rock oysters swell up like this (spawning season?), but I find the sensation of bursting a bag of white bivalve innards in my mouth ever so slightly disturbing. They came with a very nice Virgin Mary shot though, which helped cut through it.
A pear and Stilton salad was really good, and one of the relative bargains on the menu at only £9.50. Beautifully presented (this is a press shot but it did honestly look just like this when we had it), studded with crunchy toasted walnuts and hunks of oozing honeycomb, it was a dish that satisfied on every level - the sweet honey combining with the salty cheese, the crunchy melba toasts with the soft slices of chargrilled pear. I can hardly remember a better or more attractive dish calling itself a salad.
But then, the steaks. For a restaurant called the Rib Room you'd hope that these would at least be interesting enough to carry the flag, and superficially they looked decent enough, nice and thick and with something approaching a dark char. But looks were sadly all they had going for them - they each tasted watery and bland, like any bog standard £10 pub offering, and while my ribeye was just tender enough, a friend's sirloin was incredibly dry and chewy, really rather unpleasant. And there's the little matter of cost, too - the 250g ribeye was £26 and 250g sirloin was £29, a huge markup for what was very obviously commodity Smithfield market standard meat. I've never heard of Aubrey Allen before (the beef supplier) but I made a mental note to avoid them in the future.
Thankfully, a very enjoyable dessert of macerated oranges and vanilla ice cream went some way to obliterating the memory of the mediocre steaks. With bold flavours and more clever use of honeycomb for texture, this was thankfully more on the level of the starters than the mains, and - you'll have to take my word on this one - presented very well. And a cheese course consisting of five cheeses all from the same Sussex farm and all pasteurised would not normally have set my pulse racing but these were surprisingly good and although I'd like a bit more variety I'd say the Rib Room's bold decision to put all their eggs in one metaphorical basket just about paid off. Unpasteurised would have been better of course, but you can't have everything.
I have just finished reading Mark Kermode's book The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex. In it (bear with me, this is going somewhere), he describes how it is almost impossible for a blockbuster movie to lose money - throw enough special effects, explosions, internationally famous movie stars and McDonalds Happy Meal tie-ins at more or less anything and people will flock to see it, just to be part of the "event". If people were that fussy, any number of straightforward summer movies trotted out by the big studios over the years (Godzilla, Green Lantern, Tron: Legacy, you name it) would have been catastrophic flops - in fact, all of these were, financially at least, successful. The Rib Room is a Blockbuster Restaurant - millions have been spent on the revamp, it's in the poshest part of town, the menu is crowdpleasing in that "all bases covered" kind of way and the service is slick and professional. And on Friday night every table was taken, not with trend-chasing food geeks like me but with comfortably moneyed Belgravia locals who were enjoying a perfectly nice evening surrounded by all the crystal and silverware they could want. The Rib Room, as I said, isn't me. And for that reason, I'm sure it will do very well.
I was invited to review the Rib Room. Also, it was very dark in there so pics kindly supplied by Rochelle of Roche Communications (their PR people)