Ringing for champagne is all part of the fun at Bob Bob Ricard. But are all its ideas on the button?
Bob Bob Ricard, 1 Upper James Street, London W1
Sunday 18 January 2009
"Press for champagne service." I want one of these little black buzzers next to my bed, please. There is something so very comforting, in these Dickensian hard times, about the idea of simply pressing a button and having a lad wheel up a trolley of Champagne's finest. This is just one of the endearing little touches at Bob Bob Ricard, the eclectic, ebullient new funked-up brasserie in Soho.
Others include opening non-stop from 7am to 3am; putting on a something-for-everyone menu that runs from an all-day breakfast to afternoon tea to caviar and blinis to lobster thermidor to a burger with the works; placing a power point next to the champagne buzzer so you can plug in your own, personal toaster; monogramming the butter; dressing the female waiters in blue waistcoats and the males in pink; and creating special tables for one, so that lone diners don't have to sit opposite an empty chair.
And all this in a fine corner site just off Golden Square, rescued from the drunken hordes of what was Circus, and now a fabulously hospitable room with row upon row of cosy booths, and lashings of marble, brass and leather that recall the long-gone days of Edwardian rail travel. Owners Leonid Shutov and Richard Howarth are fans of The Wolseley, so restaurant resuscitator David Collins was called upon to design the whole shebang with his usual intelligent mix of common sense, luxury and grace. This time, he seems to have had a bit of fun as well.
Overlooking the eccentric corn flakes-to-caviar menu is the former Pont de la Tour head chef James Walker, who makes a fair fist of it. A dish of gentle curds of golden scrambled eggs served with furls of satiny smoked salmon, from the excellent London smokehouse H Forman & Son (£12.50), makes a fine lunch, with hot toast straight from the gleaming Kenwood. A Cornish fish soup (£8.50) is a full-bodied starter served with good accessories, as is a cute little preserving jar of potted Middle White pork belly (£8.50) served with a little pot of tangy perry jelly and wisps of Melba toast.
More grown-up dishes, such as a good-sized slab of precisely cooked wild halibut on a bed of wild mushrooms (£19) are simply designed and generous, whereas the so-called comfort dishes – optimistically called "BBR Favourites" – seem slapped together. A BBR chicken curry (£14.75), with its retro garnish of banana, is pale, creamy and very "What-shall-we-do-with-the-leftovers?" and an Elwy Valley shepherd's pie (£14.50) is all potato, with a thin layer of tired lamb beneath. This may well be what true Brits require from their boarding-school fodder, but I find it anything but comforting.
Service under Jean Francois and Caroline Valerio, filched from The Ivy, is keen, capable and willing, and the solid wine list, which includes half a dozen English offerings, tries hard to cater for all tastes and all pockets. Wine glasses are small, coffee (Monmouth) is superb, and the house cocktail is a dreamy White Ladyish rhubarb "gin and tonic".
It is possible there are Too Many Ideas. When I press the champagne button, the little light stays on for 45 minutes, until a waiter finally notices. The beautifully detailed downstairs bar opened briefly, then closed to have a rethink. And to serve consistently good food from such a hugely eclectic please-all menu until 3am is both generous and hospitable, but also, I suggest, overly ambitious.
Bob Bob won't ever get to the level of its personal idol, The Wolseley, but there is good business to be had by meaning a bit less to more people. I like the energy, ideas, accessibility and most of all, the sense of affordable fun – something we will all need in the year to come. n
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
Bob Bob Ricard, 1 Upper James Street, London W1, tel: 020 3145 1000. Open 7am-3am daily. Around £90 for two, including wine and service
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