3 May 2011

Bob Bob Ricard, London – Restaurant Review

The bar at BBR
Bob Bob Ricard has been a darling of the blogosphere since it opened at the end of 2008. I had moved to Norway a few months earlier so missed out on its quirky blend of British and Russian food. Nevertheless I vowed to pay it a visit one day. So when I was tasked with organising a boys' night out with four of my closest friends from university, BBR was at the top of my list.

BBR is the creation of Leonid "Bob" Shutov and Richard Howarth. Allegedly Leonid owns two thirds of the shares, hence the repetition of his name. The interior is really like nothing I've seen before. I can only describe it as shockingly decadent and absolutely bonkers. I love it. Designed by David Collins (who also designed The Wolseley) it features electric blue leather lined booths, plenty of polished brass, geometric tiled flooring, and garish wallpaper. The overall effect is to teleport you to a luxury liner or first class carriage on the Orient Express in the early 1900's. The kitchen is run by head chef James Walker (ex-Le Pont de la Tour) who presides over an Anglo-Russian menu of hearty classics.

We arrived early for our dinner so as to enjoy a few drinks in the similarly styled subterranean bar. It was there I sampled perhaps the best thing about BBR – a small, but perfectly proportioned rhubarb gin & tonic (£7.50). Wow! Bursting with fresh rhubarb flavours it was utterly drinkable and on this unseasonably warm London day disappeared all too quickly.

We started with some zakuski – Russian hors d’oeuvre served with vodka. The idea here is to down your shot of vodka and then immediately take a bite of the food so as to bring out its full flavours. So, shots of Russian Standard Imperia (£4.75) served at a mouth-numbing -18°C were dispatched with much gusto, swiftly followed by mouthfuls of jellied ox tongue. Dense meaty pieces of ox tongue, peas, carrots and quail’s egg had been beautifully encased in crystal clear jelly. A dollop of horseradish cream added some zingy freshness to the mix.
We recharged our vodka glasses and repeated the procedure. This time we bit into a luxurious Russian salad, topped with pungent slices of black truffle (£4.50).
Again with the vodka. And now some cool spears of malosol cucumber pickles (£1.50). Here cucumbers have been very lightly brined with garlic, dill and horseradish so as to retain their fresh crunch.

A warm starter came next in the form of meat pelmeni (£12.50). Rib-sticking beef and pork filled dumplings were served in a white wine vinegar sauce with some sour cream on the side. These were very moreish; the richness of the dumplings was lightened by the sourness of the cream and acidity of the sauce.
Installed at each booth is BBR’s infamous “Press for Champagne” button. So naturally we pressed it. Within a few seconds a cheerful waitress appeared asking us if we’d like some Champagne. I don’t know why we seemed surprised that pushing a button labelled “Press for Champagne” would lead to an offer of Champagne, but the speed of her arrival (and most likely the effects of the earlier vodka) caught our befuddled brains somewhat off guard, so we all sat there for a few silent seconds looking like simpletons pondering the question we’d been asked. Why yes. Yes, we would love some Champagne! So a bottle of non-vintage Pol Roger Réserve was ordered at the bargain price of £55, which the menu boasts would set you back “£88 at Gordon Ramsey [sic]”. These buttons should be installed everywhere in my opinion.
The obligatory BBR "money shot"
Starters came next. My friend had scallops, black pudding and apple served with watercress and truffle dressing (£10.50). Although I didn't try it, he reported it to be very good indeed; it certainly looked great on the plate and, as any viewer of MasterChef can attest to, it’s a classic combination of flavours.
Another friend had venison steak tartar served with raw quail’s egg, curly croutons and green salad (£8.75), which seemed to fall short of the mark. In fact, when the waiter accidentally knocked over a shot of vodka all over the half-eaten tartar my friend reported the dish to have been improved immeasurably. Joking aside, I was a little disappointed that no replacement dish was immediately offered, although we would probably have politely declined if it was. Also, I’m not sure if the cost of this dish was removed from the final bill as I didn’t keep the receipt, but I have a feeling that it wasn’t. At least the glass of vodka was refilled gratis.

My starter of caviar with blinis and sour cream (£50 for 30g) was also disappointing. I suppose when it comes to caviar you get what you pay for and the malossol-method caviar made by Spanish producer Riofrío wasn’t a patch on its more expensive Russian and Iranian counterparts. It was quite hard in texture, without that smooth butteriness and pleasing ‘pop’ of high-quality sturgeon caviar, and was timid in its flavour. So much so that it was totally overwhelmed by the taste of the blinis and sour cream.
A friend’s main course of lobster and crab linguine (£27.50) looked great and reportedly tasted fine, but seemed to lack as much lobster or crab as its price would suggest.
Another friend's onglet steak from London butcher O'Shea's (£18.50) came pre-sliced with caramelised onions, green salad and peppercorn sauce. I managed to sneak a bite of this, as onglet is one of my favourite cuts of beef, and can report it was perfectly cooked and bursting with flavour. The caramelised onions on the side were way too sweet for me though.
If BBR were to have a signature main course, then it would probably be their Veal Holstein (£21.50). This classic dish was very well executed and was definitely my favourite of the meal. Tender veal escalope was breaded and fried, and came with capers, anchovies, quail's egg, truffled mashed potatoes and a truffle sauce. A wonderful and balanced mix of powerful flavours, this was simply delicious.
However, I suspect the real winners of the main course competition were the table of four sitting opposite us who ordered two of the most beautiful Beef Wellingtons I have seen. We watched greedily as a waiter proceeded to slice into the lattice-topped pastry crust to reveal perfectly cooked beef. The menu lists this as being made with 28-day aged Aberdeenshire scotch fillet and is served with truffle gravy (£34 per person). Definitely one for next time I suppose.

By now, the Champagne button had been commandeered as a "Press for Vodka" button – a punishable offence I was subsequently warned over Twitter by co-owner Leonid Shutov. Although I am pleased to report that the penance is a compulsory glass of Champagne.

Desserts, therefore, arrived in a bit of a hazy blur. My friend’s Chocolate Glory (Mark II) (£9.75) was visually spectacular (reading that back, it sounds so wrong). A golden orb of Valrhona Jivara chocolate arrived, magically melting away as hot chocolate sauce is poured over it. Nestled inside were a chocolate brownie, passion fruit and orange jelly, and meringue.
My Knickerbocker Glory (£9.75) was a decent but ultimately uninspiring version of this 1930’s classic. I’m not sure what I was expecting, as I suppose there’s only so much you can do with ice cream, jelly and cream. Although I suspect to truly appreciate these you need to be nine years old.
Bob Bob Ricard is by no means perfect. Although great in parts, the food didn't quite hit the spot for me, and at these prices I was hoping for something a little better. The wine list, though, offers some great choices at some of the most competitive prices in London. The atmosphere and quirky interior are wonderful, transporting you to a bygone era. It's not the sort of place I'd go to if I was taking Mrs. Nibbler out for a romantic dinner, but for an exuberant meal with a group of friends it fits the bill perfectly. So go and check out Bob Bob Ricard for yourself, it's a bloomin' brilliant riot of fun, and isn't that what eating out should be all about?

Food:           6 / 10
Service:       7 / 10
Ambiance:   9 / 10

Bob Bob Ricard
1 Upper James Street
London W1F 9DF
Tel: +44 (0)20 3145 1000
Bob Bob Ricard on Urbanspoon
Square Meal


  1. Food fashions annoy me to no end. If I get served friggin' blinis and caviar one more time this year, I'll lose it!

  2. I really like the whole experience of eating at BBR, there is something so wonderfully decadent about it all. It makes dinner a real event.

    It sounds like I have been lucky with the dishes I've eaten though - onglet, veal and lamb have all been very good indeed. Shame about the lobster and crab salad though.

  3. Thank you, Mr Nibbler. It is certainly our intention to make the whole experience as perfect as possible. I am looking into all the issues that you raise and hopefully your next visit shall be flawless. All the best, Bob Bob.