Thursday, 16 December 2010

Bob Bob Ricard, Soho

When a couple of years ago I moaned to a psychotherapist friend of mine that a loved one seemed never to share my excitement and joy when nice things happened to me or to others, and in fact often tried to detract from them, he explained to me the principle of something called 'destructive envy'. Put as simply as possible (as anything needs to be for me to understand it), destructive envy is the urge which leads someone to seek to destroy or devalue that which he does not or can not have himself, even though he may not consciously intend to do so. The most obvious example is the toddler who, rather than sharing another's shiny new toy, will instead try to smash it against the nursery wall.

It was destructive envy on my part that prevented me, until last Thursday, from setting foot over the threshold of Bob Bob Ricard. Such had been the incessant outpouring of praise and hyperbole from bloggers and Twitterers since its 2008 opening that I had not wanted to try it for myself, perhaps fearing that I too would get sucked up into the hysteria. Far from wanting to see what all the fuss was about, I got so sick of hearing about the place that the last thing I wanted to do was actually go there.

I could resist no longer however when the call came telling me that my great pal and neighbour Lady Lavinia Blundell-White, formerly of my home-from-home Dean Street Townhouse, had been poached  from there to be the hostess of Bobby's Bar, the truly stunning bar downstairs from the restaurant. Invited by Lavinia to come and see her new playground for myself, I went along one evening after work fully expecting just to stay for one drink, maybe two, before leaving; I left four hours later, stuffed full of food, rather tipsy, £135 lighter of pocket and utterly, utterly smitten.

It all began when Leonid Shutov, the charismatic (to say the least) co-owner told me that no, I could not have the Martini I had ordered, but could have a glass of each of two of the finest and most expensive vodkas, along with accompanying zakuski, on the house. The zakuski - little bites of food intended to titillate the tastebuds after they have been awakened by the vodka - were lovely, a neat tower of Russian salad topped with shaved black truffle and rather more prosaically, a couple of lengths of sweet and sour pickled cucumber.

My palate thus sharpened and mood thus enhanced, something in my brain just popped and I decided that what I really wanted was not only to stay, but to stay for ten grams of Iranian caviar with blinis and sour cream, which BBR proudly serves at prices which must barely make a profit - £16.75 in this case. Another shot of vodka was, of course, needed to help the precious eggs down.

At this point I could have left, shaken some hands, told everyone what a lovely time I'd had and disappeared into the night. Could have, but didn't; instead, a Negroni was ordered and a table for one booked upstairs for a little bite of dinner. The Negroni was a disappointment - over-stirred so as to be too diluted, taking away the mighty kick which this cocktail usually serves - but a follow up dry Martini (Leonid's back being turned at this point) made with the house Russian Standard vodka hit the spot most precisely.

Upstairs in the utterly bonkers but beautiful dining room, all teal leather booths, marble counters and neo-baronial portraiture, I settled into a banquette and drank in the buzz. There's a pace and energy to Bob Bob Ricard that for many would be too much; sedate it ain't but it's fun if you like that sort of thing. Also great fun is the menu, which is made up for the most part of familiar British staples with pride taken in provenance, but with a scattering of Russian favourites to add colour. I decided to go for a red meat blow-out and ordered venison steak tartare to start followed by O'Shea's beef onglet with caramelised onions and green peppercorn sauce. Oh, and a glass of Merlot as of course by this stage I'd barely had a drop to drink.

My starter was very good but lacked oomph; using venison instead of beef steak is a nice idea but the comparative mildness of uncooked deer to raw cow calls for more seasoning to make the dish really sing. There was absolutely no faulting the onglet however; steak of the very highest quality, cooked perfectly (medium-rare to allow for onglet's natural slight toughness) and served with a lovely heap of sweet, gooey red onions caramelised to a point just short of collapsing into a sauce but leaving enough bite to serve as a vegetable. That a relatively cheap cut such as this can taste so good makes me wonder even more for the sanity of people queuing up to hand over two or even three times this dish's £18.50 price tag for a smaller portion of a supposedly superior steak in one of London's increasing number of vulgar 'high-end' steak-houses (a trend which, as may be apparent, I have no taste for).

Although I'd have liked to try one of the comforting-sounding old school desserts - Bramley apple pie say, or knickerbocker glory - my appetite just about failed me so I made do with an excellent affogato and a glass of tremendous, gasp-inducingly good Chateau Rieussec 1er Cru Sauternes 2003. Priced at £11.75 this was an expensive treat but, like the caviar, defiantly less marked up than at just about anywhere else. Bob Bob Ricard embellishes the wine list with cheeky pop-out boxes informing diners how much more expensive some wines are at other restaurants; it's a cunning idea, the apparent altruism of which suddenly makes £331 for a bottle of Bâtard Montrachet seem a complete steal and must lure many a punter into spending far more than they ever intended to.

Photo by Paul Winch-Furness
Oh - oh like ME for example! Yes, this epic tipsy Bacchanal  - somewhere along the way a glass of Chablis snuck its way in, and I managed a (wonderful) cucumber Martini as a nightcap - rang up a bill of £135, by no means the most I've spent on a night out but certainly a record for a solo session that was only ever meant to last one drink. I don't begrudge a penny of it; there's some alchemy in the mix of bonkers room, discounted luxury, lovely service (from deferential staff in kooky kandy-kolored blazers) and splendid food that makes one want to linger and if that means clocking up a humdinger of a bill then so be it.

It's not perfect; for a restaurant proud of its wine list the selection available by the glass or carafe is weak, and for every attractive touch (table-side sockets so useful for charging one's phone; exquisite loos) there's a borderline naff gimmick (silly 'Press for Champagne' buttons in every booth; an irritating website). But it is very good, fairly priced, and its owners are among the nicest, most decent people you could hope to meet; the hype is no more than Bob Bob Ricard deserves. Some professional critics have been at best luke-warm and at worst exaggeratedly excoriating about it. I can only attribute that to destructive envy, and advise them to try sharing their toys.

Bob Bob Ricard, 1 Upper James Street, London W1F 9DF Tel: 020 3145 1000 
Bob Bob Ricard on Urbanspoon


  1. Great review! Was lovely to see you that evening, so glad you had such a wonderful experience.

    I'm slightly smitted with your dear friend Lady Lavinia... she adds yet another reason to the very many that already keep me coming back and back and back!

  2. As well you know I'm with you on the issue of over-hyping restaurants, but you can't fault people for enthusiasm. Glad you finally went, love the place.

    On another note, we should go for lunch at a certain 'high-end steak restaurant'. There is no doubt in my mind that your mind would be changed.

  3. I know exactly what you mean when it comes to over-hyped restaurants. I've had underwhelming experiences at Polpo, Terroirs and others for exactly that reason - unreasonable expectation after many, many glowing reviews.

    That said, BBR (which I resisted, but not as long as you managed) was one of the few to live up to the hype. At least in part because of the experience of eating here (not to mention a pretty good kitchen).

  4. Ah, I knew you'd come round to our way of thinking eventually. YOU CANNOT RESIST THE HIVE MIND! JOIN US! JOINN USSSSS!

  5. Ohh Hughdie. . .come over and see me sometime honey X

  6. Kavey, likewise, and I see the attraction both of BBR and Lavinia!

    James - if you're offering to buy said lunch, you're on! I hope this post has at least proved that I am not too proud to eat my own words (albeit washed down with lakes of liquor).

    Grubworm - thanks for the vote of solidarity mate ;-)

    Chris - was that the 'Told You So' dance I just caught you doing there? Was it? :-)

  7. James come and have a tart with me. . .

  8. Oh it's like that is it? Well, go on then...

  9. Lovely job.. I love nights like that. I learnt recently that telling Leonid anything, much less that you don't want to drink vodka and eat caviar, is a fool's errand. You're just better going along with it. Glad you've been, it's definitely one of the more unique restaurants around these days.


  10. Great review Hugh and such wise words! ;o)

  11. Lavinia, James - get a room already!

    Rich - thank you, and yes I too now see that resistance where Leonid is concerned is entirely useless.

    Az - thank you, I am lucky to have such a wise and eminent friend as you :-)

  12. Do you really have a friend called Lady Lavinia?
    Love Bobbob's...reminded me of 'brazil' the movie somehow.

  13. Ms Marmite Lover, I do indeed, and she is quite a character! Pop in and say hello or say hi to her on Twitter: @beebeericard

  14. Lovely review, as always. I've just realised that the behaviour of one of my closest friends has a name - destructive envy. Call myself a psychologist!


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