Menu-wise, Bar Boulud offers a wide and appealingly described range of brasserie fare; a long-ish list of charcuterie options is joined by a selection of sausages, soups and salads in portions geared towards sharing. If you're after something more substantial there are burgers (apparently a Boulud speciality) and 'plats de resistance', a rather grand name for fish and meat main courses which include classics like coq au vin and steak frites. So far, so Cafe Rouge.
While deciding what to have we sampled a couple of cocktails, neither of which bowled us over. My Negroni was insipid - too much sweet vermouth possibly - and Will's Cosmopolitan (Who dear? Gay dear? Us dear?) was just silly, poured at the table from a miniature pitcher, into a cocktail glass containing a giant ice ball, in which were encased rose petals which perfumed the drink as the ice melted. Sometimes cocktail theatre can be fun, sometimes it's just naff; the latter was the case here, made worse by the fact that rose petals have no place in a Cosmopolitan.
We ordered a selection of dishes to share, a small charcuterie platter, a tourte de canard (duck terrine in pastry), boudin blanc with truffle mash and cervelas de Lyon, one of the day's specials described as pork sausage baked in brioche - I envisioned a high-end pork pie. Additionally I ordered chilled pea soup with baby carrot for no better reason than that I love chilled soups.
The charcuterie is made in-house to specifications laid down by Parisian master charcutier Gilles Verot and I thought it rather grand that rather than have the charcuterie bought in, Boulud had had a charcutier brought in. Particularly enjoyable on the platter were slow-cooked beef cheek which had an intense, almost curried flavour and a terrine of pulled (sort of braised) rabbit. Accompanying pickles were lively and piquant. Less impressive were the various hams and meats, which were indistinguishable from anything one could buy in a half-decent deli.
Our tourte de canard was very good, layering gutsy pressed duck, abundant nuggets of goose foie gras (their foie gras is all goose - I checked) and sticky, squishy figs, the whole encased in a deliciously sweet, glazed pastry. Boudin blanc was also a pleaser, the sausage's delicate smoothness of texture belying its concentrated pork flavour; the truffle mash it nestled on was rich, buttery and utterly luxurious. My chilled pea soup, listed as also incorporating rosemary cream, did not taste of the herb at all but was tasty and primaveral, providing a welcome cleansing contrast to the salinity of the charcuterie. The worst dish by far was the cervelas de Lyon which consisted of dense sausage-meat - "Is this Spam?" I wondered more than once - within claggy, dry brioche which stuck in the throat. Removing the bread rendered it barely more edible.
Although we were fairly full, we decided not to order desserts less from being full than for lack of any interest. A combination of the ugly room and far too formal service - from far too many staff - had made it impossible to relax all the time we were there and we just wanted to get the hell out. Our bill, including a glass of wine each (Will's a Sancerre, mine a lovely, light Irancy, at about a tenner apiece) and 12.5% service came to £104 which we both clutched our pearls at; individual plate prices don't raise eyebrows in isolation but boy do they add up. As we left, Daniel Boulud himself was working the room, but neither he nor any of his copious staff felt it necessary to thank us or wish us goodbye.
I'd struggle to recommend anything about Bar Boulud though damn it I have been racking my brains to try. Sure there's the good quality of the charcuterie but anywhere can sell someone else's established product. Otherwise I really don't see anything special about Bar Boulud to make up for the awful design, the dull stiffness of the ambience and the 'so what?' OK-ness of the food offering.
Perhaps it will make a nice breakfast room.
Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA Tel: 020 7201 3899 http://www.barboulud.com/