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)

The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Hollow Legs said...

The food sounds terribly boring for the money. Hawksmoor / Goodman is about the same price, though perhaps not as sparkly and cossetting.

Unknown said...

Interesting point about "I would never have gone had I not been invited". As you know I try to avoid getting too bogged down in the whole 'blogger freebies: should we or shouldn't we?' debate, but one question I always ask myself before accepting any invitation is: Is this a restaurant that I would ordinarily have gone to? If the answer's no, I don't go, as I don't feel that I could write interestingly, enthusiastically or objectively about somewhere I've only gone to because it's free and it will generate a post.

Clearly that's not the case here - your post is as usual very fair and well thought-out - but I do wonder if your experience might have been a little doomed from the start as you only went, by your own admission, for the sake of it?

Glad to see you using the press photos too. If only more people would do that, and stop taking pictures of and during their meal...but that, of course, is a whole other debate... ;-)

Ollie said...

I must say, that salad does look jolly nice.

Kavey said...

I've done the same as Hugh on a number of occasions when invited to review restaurants. If it's somewhere I'd normally consider going (or would like to go if I had the budget) I accept. If it's not the kind of place I'd ever normally choose to go, I tend not to as I figure I can't judge it fairly according to its target audience.

That said, and again echoing Hugh, your write up has balanced your personal viewpoint against the point that it's not your kind of place.

Chris Pople said...

Lizzie: The sad fact is, Goodman or Hawksmoor would have been quite a bit cheaper - the Goodman 250g British grass-fed fillet is £26. Here it's £38...

Hugh/Kavey: Completely take your point(s), I suppose curiosity simply got the better of me in this case. Don't regret it, but as I said, not going back under my own steam. As for press photos, yes unusual for me but you really should see the photos I took on Friday. Like something out of a David Cronenberg movie.

Gregory said...

Having been pre-refurb (on a work gig), I felt very much the same way. OK, reasonable "hotel" quality, but not worth troubling Mr Visa to do so.

Though judging from the pictures, the refurb is more akin to changing the curtains than gutting the gaff.

The Grubworm said...

Just to follow up on the comments by Hugh and Kavey, I tend to to turn down all invites, I find invited reviewing takes almost all the pleasure out of dining. In light of that, well done on a good review - it sounds fair and thoughtful. That said, I wouldn't choose to go there, but then I wouldn't have anyway. For the price I know I can get ace food elsewhere, and that part of town has never been a favourite place to eat out in.

Nick Loman said...

"Milkiness" in oysters is what happens when they are spawning. In the UK this happens during the summer months and is one of the reasons we don't have natives during that time.

If your oysters were milky in November I would wonder if that means they are from the southern hemisphere. I had exactly this experience in late October in Australia.

Really there is no excuse not to be serving Colchester natives at this time of year, and certainly at those price points (not that Mersea oysters are particularly dear anyway).

Unknown said...

@Nick Loman re. Milkiness in oysters, given how unseasonably warm it's been recently I wouldn't be surprised if the rocks have been tricked into spatting..

Nick Loman said...

@Donald Edwards - I suppose it is possible! I guess the advice would be to send them back if milky, shouldn't really happen.

italy travel said...

This seems like a cool place but I am not really sure with the food. Looks like I prefer some simple yet tasty ones.

Anonymous said...

Nice review as per, but to suggest 'the green lantern' was financially successful is unfortunately inaccurate ( for the producers, not for those who wisely avoided it)