Every now and then a London restaurant makes the leap from being merely famous to being a national treasure.
Such restaurants aren’t often garlanded with Michelin stars and critical acclaim, but instead find success through their charm, their eccentricity or the ferocious loyalty of their repeat customers.
J Sheekey is one, Rules is another. And now a relative newcomer is knocking on that same door – the much-loved modern classic Bob Bob Ricard.
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When the Soho restaurant first opened its doors in 2008, punters could have been forgiven for thinking that this unconventional upstart, with its booths that look like carriages from the Orient Express, waiters dressed in pastel pink outfits and “press for Champagne” buttons, would be little more than a short-lived quirk of the London food scene, destined to burn bright for a year or two and then fade away.
Ten years later, Bob Bob is still going strong. So how has it thrived where other high-concept restaurants have fallen flat?
The late, great food writer AA Gill once decried the proliferation of eateries where upon being seated a waiter asks: “Has anyone explained our concept?” According to Gill, the correct response to this question should always be: “Yes, you bring me food, I eat it, I pay, you give me my coat back.”
Perhaps this is one of the things that has contributed to Bob Bob Ricard’s success. For all its idiosyncrasy, the restaurant has never bought into passing trends for small sharing plates, iPad ordering systems, clean eating menus and no-reservation policies. Rather it has always done things simply, perhaps even traditionally, and well. Which is part of the reason why it feels like a restaurant that has been an essential part of the fabric of London for much longer than its ten years.
As it approaches its tenth anniversary, The Week Portfolio went to find out how this former ingénue of the restaurant scene was holding up.
Greeted at the front door by a man in a bowler hat, we are whisked to our table by a waitress dressed in pink. Despite the low lighting, the room positively gleams – the gold-gilt edges of the royal blue booths catching in the half-light.
All the romance of early 20th-century travel is here and David Collins’s award-winning interior still holds up marvellously. The restaurant’s dress code is “elegant, no ties” and as soon as you’re seated you understand why. Anything less would do the room a disservice; anything more would be too much. This is no place for ties, stuffiness and sitting up straight – it’s a room to be enjoyed, a space engineered for fun.
With that in mind, my wife and I immediately press the champagne buzzer, and a waitress appears: “Ayala, Moet or Bollinger?” she asks. We opt for two glasses of Ayala because we’re feeling only moderately fancy.
We show no such restraint with our food, however. The truffled potato and mushroom vareniki we start with offers an indulgent hat tip to the restaurant’s Anglo-French-Russian conceit. The salmon tartar’s deep pink fish and rose-coloured roe matches the waiters floating around the room perfectly.
Next up, my sole with lobster and champagne veloute is a tightly-wrapped fish roll with lobster, prawn and scallop inside and a knob of butter melted on top. My wife has the chicken Kiev, which looks like a UFO that’s crash-landed on a bed of creamed corn. Chicken is easy to make bland, but this is anything but – head chef Eric Chavot gets the best out of the meat, which is breaded lightly.
To finish we share an Eton Mess ‘en perle’ and a BBR signature chocolate glory. Both arrive as tennis ball-sized spheres, which are then doused in cream and hot chocolate sauce. The effect of the hot sauce is spectacular, opening the dessert like the petals of a flower. The 1996 Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas that I order with it is the metaphorical cherry on the figurative cake.
Resisting the urge to hit the champagne buzzer one last time we bid Bob Bob a fond farewell, confident that we’ll be returning to this treasure in the decades ahead.
Bob Bob Ricard, 1 Upper James St, London W1F 9DF.
£75 per head for three courses and a modest bottle of wine. Lunch offers an off-peak discount that's usually 15-20% below dinner prices. The restaurant launched a new Sunday roast in June and has introduced several new vegan options to its menu.
For reservations: bobbobricard.com or 020 3145 1000.
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