When the least opulent thing about a restaurant is the ‘press for Champagne’ button on your table, you know you’re in for a treat.
Bob Bob Ricard, Soho, London
There was a time, not long ago, when it felt like we were constantly being told that London was being taken over by Russian oligarchs. These big spenders were flocking to the city to invest their dubious capital in our ‘luxury apartment blocks’ and spend their money on Bond Street, Knightsbridge and Park Lane for the one week a year they might deign to visit.
Post-Brexit this all seems like a relic from some not so distant past. We hear the big boys are asking Uncle Vlad if they might be able to bring their cash home, no questions asked you understand.
So where does that leave the flamboyant Bob Bob Ricard? Renowned for serving comfort food – think lobster mac and cheese and opulent shepherds pie – for the already very comfortable, what will it do if its target audience decamps to the motherland?
Perhaps it doesn’t bother them too much. The restaurant has held its corner site just north of Golden Square for nigh on ten years, which makes it practically part of the Soho substrate compared to fly-by-night neighbours around Carnaby Street and ‘Kingly Court’ “whatever one of those is,” you can almost hear an oligarch sneer.
Its reputation as a must visit-venue for special occasion meals is perhaps assured. The ridiculousness of the early breakfast menu, “left to Timmy Mallett” in the words of Giles Coren, is behind it and the whole venture appears to have got serious in time, albeit whilst retaining the – shall we be charitable? – playful twist that put Kellogg’s Frosties (£3.25) two lines above 15g Caviar (£22.50) at the height of the last recession.
You start with Champagne. Of course. Because once you’ve been seated it will take you less than the working day of an Olympic sprint finalist to “press for Champagne” as the small brass button in every booth almost demands.
Upon pressing, a pink-clad waiter will appear to take your order and provide you with a bottle of a serviceable if somewhat overpowering house Champagne (Ayala Brut Majeur), or your choice from the five-house list. From there, your evening is set.
The dinner menu is almost anti-climatic after the excitement of button pushing that will inescapably precede it. All the oligarchic comfort food is there: three types of caviar and oysters Brezhnev before you’ve even had a chance to clear your throat; truffles, lobsters and Waldorfs before you get to the main courses; and steak tartare, chicken Kiev and chateaubriand before you turn the page.
We started with oysters because, well, amongst the quaffing and braying, we don’t have enough patience for much else. They arrive, smaller than one would expect and pensive on a dish of ice. The mignonette does the job, bringing a little bite to the underwhelming bivalve molluscs.
Alongside the oysters, we opted for the rich red plates of carpaccio and the tuna tartare, with an upgrade to a bottle of Moët to accompany our fish course (yes, we pushed the button again; yes we filmed it this time).
The main courses offered us sole, chateaubriand and a beef wellington that was easily the second best I’ve ever had – or third, if you count the venison wellington two nights in a row at The Cooper Dog, Craigellachie as two separate exceptional wellington experiences.
We were briefly distracted from the Champagne menu for a couple of glasses of wine to accompany our red meat feast and before we knew it, it was done. Time for more Moët, anyone?
Bob Bob Ricard prides itself on its quite ludicrous desserts, so it will seem rude to demure. The pink-clad waiting staff will return to the table with a pair of soufflés: one Eton mess inspired and one white chocolate soufflé and of course, the chocolate bomb.
Where else would a waitress in a pale salmon pink pour molten chocolate over your dessert? Where else would you eat and cackle maniacally as you bellow for more Champagne? Frankly where else can you play at being an oligarch yourself?
The pink deco boxes of fries will unfold in front of you like something from a Parisian bakery – all that’s missing is the Mendl’s logo – and for a minute there, you will lose yourself in a world where this level of decadence seems almost acceptable; almost your birthright. You have been borne back in an Edwardian train carriage and you are better than the little people…and then yes, it is time for another bottle of Moët, and then, and then…
Maybe this is the secret to Bob Bob Ricard’s continued existence. It is, after all, the closest most of us will get to dinner on Jay Gatsby’s yacht, and there seems plenty of mileage in that halyard yet.
Until you wake up and check your receipt…
Bob Bob Ricard 1 Upper James Street, London W1 (020 3145 1000; bobbobricard.com)
Price: House Champagne £13.50 per glass, £65 per bottle. Cocktails from £10.50