Monday, 10 June 2019

Bob Bob Cité, The City

I should start this post with a kind of disclaimer. This will not be a normal review, partly because we didn't pay for any of the following and also because after so many years, and so many wonderful caviar- and champagne-soaked evenings in the glorious Soho location, the chances of my being even the least bit impartial about a brand-spanking-new Bob Bob are nearly zero.

So no, this won't be a normal review, but then Bob Bob Cité, like Bob Bob Ricard before it, is nothing like a normal restaurant, and almost defies criticism based on the usual criteria used for judging the success or otherwise of a place to eat. It's hugely reductive - and largely unfair - to say that not many people went to BBR for the food - they did, of course, because it was lovely, from their luxury fish pie glazed immaculately with the restaurant's logo, to their famous Eton Mess en perle which arrived in a meringue globe dissolved dramatically at the table. But even these theatrics inevitably played second fiddle to the extraordinary interior and rarefied atmosphere of the building itself, where every inch glowed with marble and brass, and backlit "Press for Champagne" buttons cooed seductively in the booths.

By employing the services of big-name chef Éric Chavot at the new site, Bob Bob Cité managed to grab a few headlines many months before their doors opened. Chavot won two Michelin stars when he worked at the Capital back in the day, and though I hate Michelin and everything they stand for, usually when on familiar - ie. French - ground, their bourgeois opinions aren't so easily dismissed. He is clearly a great chef, whose style fits around the super-luxe Bob Bob aesthetic wonderfully, and whose food would be a reason to visit even if you were to enjoy it in a reclaimed knackers yard under a railway bridge. They've upped the food game, in fact, to such a degree that it now stands alongside the best of Henry Harris' uber-gastropubs (the Coach in Clerkenwell, the Hero of Maida or the Crown in Chiswick) for this kind of thoughtful, precise, classical French cooking.

So let's stick with the food for a bit. This particular evening began with a glass of Krug champagne and 20g of Russian caviar because that's absolutely how all evenings should begin at Bob Bob. Presumably Chavot didn't have much involvement in this, or the excellent warm baguette which arrived at the same time, but whoever opened the caviar tin and poured the champagne did an excellent job. Service, needless to say, is just as sparkling as it is in Soho.

French Onion soup was the first real Chavot dish, and he played an absolute blinder. I can find quite a lot to enjoy in even quite a humble FOS, but when treated to good beef stock, and aged Comté, this classic really shines. One word of warning though - the next time I tackle one of these in a white T-shirt, I'm going to tuck a napkin down my neck. Because once the final morsels of glossy, beef-soaked caramelised onions had been mopped up, I looked like I'd gone for a swim in the stuff.

Duck egg "au plat" was a kind of posh brunchy affair, with a huge fried duck egg resting on top of addictively salty cubes of cured beef and pickled veg. One minor criticism that cropped up was that the advertised "Gruyère and truffle foam" played rather a subdued role, and though I'm sure Chavot put exactly the amount of "Gruyère and truffle foam" on the plate that he thought fit, I'm afraid when I'm promised "Gruyère and truffle foam", I want a lot of it. Otherwise, this was very lovely.

I love that Bob Bob Cité have snails on the menu, partly out of the usual foodie compulsion to appreciate the most unusual or unlikely ingredient on a menu, but also because I love the idea of eating such rustic French fayre in such an unlikely situation. They arrived, admittedly, slightly more fancied-up than usual, beneath a soft potato foam and studded with crunchy bacon bits, tasting earthy and rich and wonderful in their vivid green parsley sauce. Perhaps the French do know a bit about cooking, after all.

There are few more satisfying starters than steak tartare, and Bob Bob Cité's version has plenty to recommend it - good aged beef, the perfect balance of shallots and capers, a lovely soft quail's egg on top - even without 10g of Siberian caviar on top to turn it into the "Steak tartare impériale". Completely ludicrous, of course - I mean who on earth takes a perfectly decent dish and slaps a tablespoon of caviar on top - and yet, because this is Bob Bob and if anybody can get away with it, they can, it works. The seafood and the beef create a kind of extravagant surf'n'turf, every bit of it a joy.

Beef Wellington made great use of a different bit of cow - 35-day-aged fillet - presented first as a whole inside pastry, then taken away to be plated. Perfectly pink inside, once draped in truffle sauce it became the platonic ideal of a beef welly, immaculately executed and basically unimprovable in any way.

Lobster thermidor always struck me as a slightly bizarre thing to do to fresh seafood. I have a lot of time for many of the fine dining clichés that have been handed down through generations of mistachio'd and toque-hatted chefs - pommes Dauphinoise, tournedos Rossini, blanquette de veau to pick just three other Escoffier recipes - but loading a halved lobster with bechamel, egg yolks and cheese seems like a good way to simultaneously ruin both a cheese omelette, and a lobster. That said, the person who ordered this had absolutely nothing but praise for it, so perhaps I should wind my neck in.

Dover sole, served on the bone and topped with an interesting array of capers, gherkins and lemon, fell apart into nice meaty chunks and ate every bit as good as it looked. Classic French class.

Even sides were exemplary. Truffled mash was about 80% butter, which was entirely welcome, chips had a fantastic texture, crisp on the outside and creamy within, and some grilled hispi cabbage arrived charred and in a cloud of woodsmoke, as if it had just been lifted from the bonfire.

I'm not sure what happened to my photography in the final moments of my meal at Bob Bob Cité but there's every chance the surplus of champagne served to make me a little distracted. I have (vague) memories of being similarly... distracted after a vodka tasting evening at the Soho location, so clearly this is just something that happens when you put yourself in their hands. Anyway, desserts (as far as I know) were, like everything that came before, very French and very good. Rhum baba was soaked in alcohol (this is a good thing) and lemon meringue had all sorts of clever techniques happening at once, and bags of flavour in the lemon curd.

That's the food, then - all of it at least intelligently conceived and expertly constructed, a masterclass in French haute cuisine that lives up to every last penny of the rather 'haute' price points. People will come to Bob Bob Cité for the food, because it's great, and because fancy French, done as well as this, is almost a novelty in London in 2019 - blame changing trends and fashions, but also (mainly) blame rubbish hotel restaurants charging way too much for pretty poor examples of it. Eric Chavot's cooking is definitely worth the journey.

But if the food has stepped up a level, incredibly the design of the new place exists in a different stratosphere. I've been in some pretty fancy restaurants in my time, but Bob Bob Cité's extraordinary interior design feels genuinely otherworldly, like it's been lifted from some idealised futurist paradise. There's the attention to detail you'd expect from their fanatical approach to everything, from the dot-matrix display that ticks round the ceiling like a tongue-in-cheek nod to the local traders, and the hand-painted tableware emblazoned with an exquisitely tasteful font. But from the leather booths to the polished Art-Deco-by-way-of-Asgard chandeliers the place just sparkles. Just moving through it is like taking a mood-enhancing drug, one room in various brilliant shades of blue, another shining in pink and red. And as a backdrop to all that, floor to ceiling windows that provide a sweeping view over the Leadenhall's vast atrium and surrounding architectural marvels (the Gherkin, and the Lloyds building are neighbours). It's like eating and drinking on the set of some utopian Sci-fi. There is absolutely nothing else like it in the world, I'm sure.

So come for the food, by all means. Treat yourself to caviar and champagne, indulge in escargots and flat fish on the bone, and baked cheesey lobster. You'll enjoy it. You will. It's great. But if you agree that a large part of the, for want of a better word, experience of eating at the original Bob Bob Ricard is to be swept up in the grand theatrics of the room, resisting - and failing to resist - pressing the Press for Champagne button one last time, of knowing you're spending too much and drinking too much but never wanting it to stop, then I should warn you, this new site will test your resistance even further. If Bob Bob Ricard is the very definition of luxury, Bob Bob Cité is the future of indulgence itself - the new benchmark by which, from now on, anyone aiming to provide the ultimate restaurant experience will be judged. At any new opening across any of the bewildering number of new buildings that have swept across London in recent years, no matter how extensive the fit-out, no matter how big name the chef, expect to hear some variation of the following: "Well, it's good," they'll say, "but it's no Bob Bob Cité."


We didn't see a bill for any of the above, and given how much Krug and caviar was consumed, it could have been well north of £200/head. But it's worth pointing out that they do a chicken pie for £21 so you could go in, order that and a glass of Picpoul and escape for around £30. You won't do that - nobody will - but, you know, you could.


Helen Graves said...

I actually put half the leftover end of that Wellington in a sandwich with mustard, pastry and all.

Cumbriafoodie said...

A few good looking classics there. Must consider a visit on a future trip to London.