Just when you think Soho could not come up with a more unlikely juxtaposition of venues, people, and flavours (Russian-American-French anything was always going to be a contentious ménage à trois), you will come across Bob Bob Ricard on Upper James Street. Ever so often, I find my centre of gravity off-kilter, as the invisible force drags me back to this place. In the spirit of this rule of three, I bring two Northern pals here for New Year’s Eve.
So we scurry off to the Central Line, dangling off the handrail, united in our longing for the glam and glitz promised by the venue. You see, Bob Bob Ricard has managed to capture the notion that London is still swinging, as their staff courteously drown you in champagne in their train carriage booths (it’s not my fault that there is a literal ‘press for champagne’ button at every table which I kept accidentally smacking with my elbow). They do this before they churn you out from the train carriage into the reality of Soho’s streets, full of reversing clamper vans and raucous bottomless brunchers, as if you forgot your railcard for your 08:58 Avanti West Coast service to Manchester and not the Orient Express.
The infamous ‘press for champagne’ button, photo credit: Milton Tomic
When the restaurant first opened its doors in 2008, everybody wanted to be there. In practice, it meant weeks of waiting, plotting, and nepotistic pleading to get a table, and going through five stages of grief when you end up not getting one. This meant that Bob (not to be confused with Bob, or Ricard) was fortunate enough to open another branch in The Leadenhall Building (EC3V), predictably named Bob Bob Cité, reserved for city bosses, their important lunches and, perhaps, stranded bankers after they miss their last train back to Essex from Liverpool Street.
We started off with -18 degree vodka shots (it’s no different to chucking a bottle of Smirnoff in the freezer, but we loved the idea of grandiose silliness).
I do have to say that the menu makes little sense, but the unifying feature is the quality of cooking and the generosity of portions. You might whip through a fat stack of money, yes, but you will not leave hungry.
I had fresh, raw Jersey oysters (please don’t tell me how they taste of salty snots, they are a true kiss of the sea) whilst my companions went for mushroom vareniki, which was a cross between a dumpling and tortellino, doused in velvety sauce, generously grated truffle, and a small tomato salad at £12-a-pop (it was what it was).
Then I had the steak tartare. I always applaud like a clapping seal when I see an actual hand-chopped, decent cut of meat rather than a machine-pressed sludge resembling pâté of the animal’s insides. The side of exemplary fries with truffles, a heaped mountain of them, fresh and fragrant, peeled with a steel knife, gave me a delusional sense of grandeur and utmost content. Truffles are not to everyone’s taste, but I dare you to find a more unique taste with the propensity to bring out the best in any food.
Steak tartare at Bob Bob Ricard, photo credit: Milton Tomic.
My pals both ordered a Chicken Kyiv, which had a bone poking out reassuringly, indicating that it came from, you know, an actual chicken. Lashings of rich butter, oozing out and adorning the plate, let the very succulent chicken proudly pert in the herb-specked garlicky puddle. This was cooked to absolute perfection.
Chicken Kyiv at Bob Bob Ricard, photo credit: Milton Tomic.
We thought skipping dessert would prove to us and everyone else that we indulged in moderation, but alas, the cocktail list was placed on our table like a reverse UNO card. At that point we felt that pressing the ‘call for champagne’ button to summon the waiter only to demand more truffles was a bit of a ‘the boy who cried wolf’ moment, so we ordered a few cocktails. Not only was the glass thin and elegant, but the passion fruit martini was rich, tart, and decadent, very different from a typically cloying cough syrup dispensed from a tap, only giving you the buzz by risking Type 2 diabetes.
But for maximum shame, I do suggest you order anything from lemon vodka shots, or whisky-infused chocolate truffles, to ‘Chocolate Glory’ with a thick coat of Valhrona chocolate and praline crunch, which is a spectacle in its own, West End-worthy way.
Credit where credit is due, Bob Bob Ricard manages to stay authentic and unapologetic in its extravagance, not buying into ephemeral trends of endless iPad wine lists, QR codes, ‘no-reservation’ policies, and ‘create-your-own’ dishes. Fine dining this is not (though you will pay good dosh), it is not particularly formal (though it feels special), and, revelling in its own glory, it still doesn’t feel like a London scam where only Kardashians would go and eat coin-sized portions of organic gold-leaf topped wagyu steak (and I think you know exactly which kind of places I’m talking about).
Bob Bob Ricard is a bit like your really cool, twice-divorced aunt who will sneak out to get a packet of cigs for you on Christmas Day and spend her weekends on a Vogue wine diet from the 1970s. But it is also so much more. It’s a gallery of aesthetic finesse and casual largesse, and all-day indulgence in the little luxuries London still has to offer. After all, which other postcode in Britain would be synonymous with paying £26 for a chicken pie?
Edited by Lucy Blackmur, Music and Food Editor