Where to even begin with this one? Seriously, where to begin? Imagine, if you can, a Russian-owned English restaurant designed like an Edwardian railway carriage serving “posh comfort food” in the darkest depths of Soho. A vintage brasserie straight outta 2008 filled with plump banquettes and garish brass bits and bobs where the staff wear salmon pink jackets, turquoise waistcoats and flashes of tweed, a place where seemingly anything goes, where, according to critics, Uncle Fester serves Ribena, where Liberace designs Texan diners, and where cornflakes sit next to caviar on the menu. You’re about halfway there.
Yep, the stupidly-named Bob Bob Ricard is a fantastically odd place and it’s garnered equal amounts of praise and derision in its short two year history, hovering somewhere between an 81% approval rating on Urbanspoon and a rare zero stars from AA Gill. I quite liked it. I liked its sheer ludicrousness and amusing pretensions and aspirations of grandeur that were punctured at every opportunity. I liked the fact that it’s ridiculously bright and opulent and smart and yet the front door opens out onto a branch of Greggs. I loved that it took three concierges dressed in camp jackets to take my coat and get confused about where my party was. And I was in tragicomic stitches when we were informed most politely that “our table is ready now” and schlepped upstairs with an unfortunately attired lackey carrying the cocktails to find that, actually, all the tables were ready. Our whole evening in this surreal place was one long act in the theatre of the absurd, and it deserved a standing ovation.
So where to begin? We could start with the food but let’s not. The “press for champagne button” positioned by every table has been a favourite with most of its reviewers (although for most it either doesn’t work, is ignored, or takes ages to summon bubbly), while others can’t get over the basement ‘members’ bar. And to be fair, a lot of fun is to be had down there. Designed like a dining carriage (albeit with a backgammon-themed floor) and packed to the rafters with unforgiving amber lights and reflective surfaces, walking through it is like navigating a hall of mirrors with a strobe strapped to your forehead. By the time I reached my group I felt like I’d snorted forty lines of absinthe and stumbled into a fuse box.
Perching on what looked like a stewardess’ take-off-and-landing chair and downing something purple, frothy and egg whitey calmed my synapses, as did a quick visit to the Liberty print-festooned conveniences (I picked this photographic habit up from Comptoir Libanais and I have to say I’m warming to the theme).
Upstairs in our booth (it’s all-booth, although they have some nice one seater spots for the loners out there) and with a server that reminded me of Juliette from Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds (in a good way) by our side it was time to tickle BBR’s Achilles heel and get round to the food.
This is where the facade crumbles, like the paper thin pastry of the venison pie above. That David Dickinson-coloured artwork may look like a work of Christmas jumper kitsch genius but it was imprinted on Rizla-strength crust, something that coloured me disappointed. And the dryish meat below didn’t do much to brighten my mood, neither did the metallic-tasting truffle mash ordered separately. Sides in general were stingy – the potato dauphinoise was creamy but tiny and the mac cheese about as alluring as Lembit Opik. Pigs cheeks looked good but I had better in Madrid last month; I doubt these were slow cooked for eight hours. A crispy baby chicken came out supine, legs akimbo and tantalisingly crisp, sat next to a lemon half wrapped in muslin (nice touch) and a meagre puddle of coleslaw.
To follow, a trio of ice cream (peanut butter and banana the best) and a trio of crème brulées. The various flavours (passionfruit, raspberry and pistachio) were bold and adventurous but the wrong consistency, a bit style over substance and a custard microcosm of the whole place. Why not focus on one great dish instead of three mediocre? Then again, why change? Asking Bob Bob Ricard to make concessions to tradition, taste (either kind) or convention would take all the fun out. It would be the jungle without Gillian or the Apprentice without Stuart. Forget the potted shrimp or beef soup, its the quirks, the foibles and the downright eccentricity of this place that makes it classically British.
Clientele: Strikingly mundane compared to the Lewis Carroll cast of characters serving
Soundtrack: The least of their worries
Price Per Head: Just about under £31.75 if you’re shrewd.