Shots with everything
Lisa Hilton tries indigestible mac ’n’ cheese at a venue that should have gone the way of the tzars
This article is taken from the August/September 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
‘‘Vodka” claims Leonid Shutov, the Russian-born owner of Bob Bob Ricard, “should only be drunk with food. That’s the true Russian way.” I tried this on my first visit to his restaurant for Orthodox New Year a decade ago and absolutely right he is.
If you’re eating truffled mac ‘n’ cheese, truffled Chateaubriand with Champagne jus, truffled mashed potatoes, truffled fries and chocolate truffles, nothing cleaves through like vodka. It works brilliantly until you try to stand up.
BBR is the restaurant equivalent of the Greenland shark. Stolid, ponderous, emitting more than a whiff of decay
BBR is the restaurant equivalent of the Greenland shark. Stolid, ponderous, emitting more than a whiff of decay, it glides improbably on, so magnificently self-absorbed that it hasn’t noticed it ought to be extinct.
Some satire-immune fool on the Internet wrote that, “if the Great Jay Gatsby owned a restaurant and thrust into it all his elegance and charm, it would pale in comparison to Bob Bob Ricard”. It is certainly as brash and vulgar as Fitzgerald’s hero, but reminds one more of the passage in Tender Is The Night which describes the dusty bottles of sweet Champagne kept for Russian customers, locked up at the close of the 1917 Riviera season, innocently awaiting a clientele that will come no more.
Returning this June, it all looked the same — Imperial blue David Collins décor, befrilled waiters, menu replete with truffled starch, but aside from a party of chirruping schoolgirls and a couple who looked like they’d have Something To Say on Tripadvisor later, it was empty. Not a languidly polyglot Euro banker who had sought an arrangement to be seen.
No one ever came to BBR for the food. You went for the scene, vivid and vacantly opulent as the hedgies and their lady companions.
The “Champagne button”, prominently positioned at each table-booth is still a reliable gimmick, delivering a choice of fourteen wines by the glass from Taittinger Brut Reserve at £14 up to a 2010 Dom at £24. They claim to serve more than a hundred thousand glasses of bubbly annually, though perhaps since Putin announced that the real stuff can now only be designated “Shampanskoye” on Mr Shutov’s home turf they’ve got into a bit of a semantic muddle.
Deprived of customers though, the button alone doesn’t really cut it. The menu retains joyful touches — who could argue with “Waffle and Bellini Hour” or oysters Rasputin (a truffled take on oysters Rockefeller?) — but much of it is thoughtless stodge with no ambition beyond absorbing enough of the shampanskoye to allow you to make it back up the stairs.
Everything that hasn’t got truffle and or Champagne and potatoes involves puff pastry, including a Turbot Coulibiac with Champagne sauce which should have been exquisite but only managed the acceptable side of meh.
Tartares of salmon and steak, with or without caviar, appear in both starter and main sections, along with Truffle, Potato and Mushroom Vareniki. We were brought one of these on the house when a mix-up in the idle kitchen prevented the prompt arrival of a chicken Kiev. Maybe they’re moonlighting for Deliveroo in the back. The tartare was edible, not so the Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese, a claggy discus of Gruyère, mozzarella, cheddar and Parmesan which was an insult to everyone — including the lobster.
A Japanese lady who’d obviously been having a go on the button enlivened the proceedings by faceplanting right down the staircase. The staff gathered around, which was good of them.
The Kiev finally showed up alongside the puddings, which followed the old gag in being both terrible and minutely portioned, with the exception of an asperous raspberry Pavlova as big as your head. The Japanese lady woke up and ambled off, apparently unharmed. The Kiev oozed garlicky tears of boredom.
Aside from nearly all the food, you can’t accuse BBR of stinting on the ambrosia. The admirable policy of not taking more than a £50 mark up on any wine makes it possible to try bottles that would usually be inaccessible. Their sales account for 1 per cent of the UK’s Château d’Yquem consumption, and at £28 a glass it was a tempting indulgence, but even residual love for the raddled old stager the restaurant has become couldn’t prompt us to linger. We may as well have done, since the bill took forty-five minutes to arrive and included the unordered tartare.
A place that used to feel blingy and naff but somehow glamorous and fizzing with possibilities for adventure has declined into a provincial parody, which isn’t so great if parody is what you began with.
BBR has announced plans to open in September in the City after a lengthy pandemic delay, so perhaps it might yet recover its razzle, but for the present the Soho branch leaves one feeling like Daisy Buchanan: “appalled by its raw vigour… and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short cut from nothing to nothing”.
If the rule for leaving a party is that you should exit precisely when you’re having the best time, then BBR should have fetched its coat five years ago.
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