We had meant to go to Polpo. It’s decent value, they do a juicy rare onglet for £9.50, a good Negroni, and it’s buzzy. But the queues on the warm evening snaked out onto Beak Street. So when my friend Emma arrived, exhausted and hungry after a hard day’s slog, we popped directly over the road into Bob Bob Ricard.
In the late nineties, this corner spot was Circus, a directional gaff which prided itself on ‘pan-Asian’ cuisine (ie it served crocodile or ostrich steaks). My oenophile boss would organise lunches there with important contacts, and everyone would exclaim how absolutely cutting edge they all were.
Now it’s quite different. Opulent, hushed, dark-lit. Attractive, serious young folk in smart outfits ushered us to our booth, as if we were a couple of spies dining on the Orient Express. Initially we thought how wonderfully secretive, and quiet too (a relief after the brouhaha outside on the hot summer’s evening).
Service was swift, hurried even. Moments after being presented with menus we were asked for food orders. When we tried to slow things down with a Negroni, wide-eyed waiters pressed us on whether we had made a choice. Our starters came whilst we were drinking aperitifs. Not the end of the world, I know, but not quite the done thing in a restaurant at this level.
The best thing we ate arrived early, like a gift. Pickled herring, beetroot and soft poached egg (main pic) was wonderful: a perfect yolk to match the oily fish and sweet earthy vegetable. Prawn Cocktail, our other starter, was a sorry dish of eight cold shell-on crustacea and a minisucule dipping pool of mayo.
Just as we were pondering this, our mains arrived. Still, these chicken kievs (the menu has lots of Russian and Eastern European touches) ‘garnished’ with tomatoes were steaming so we left them to rest a while. And the meat was fine, though unexciting, and not especially tender. Spinach and chips were decent. And we had a great conversation, such were the acoustics of the place. But the constant attention was borderline invasive: wine glass filling, removing dishes or plates, asking, checking. Maybe I’m out of touch, but these are not the kind of places I reside.
And doesn’t all this secrecy, these booths, this lack of open dining room ultimately corrode any true atmosphere? Eating out in a posh place is as much about the spectacle of watching others, isn’t it? Here, there’s a kind of conservatism at play. Still, it must be a damn good place to conduct an affair (or perhaps the beginnings of one). Ahem.
Oh, and the bill was a shocker. We didn’t exactly hold back, but even so £120 seemed excessive. ‘Let’s not give them any more money,’ hissed Emma at the prospect of dessert. So we popped over the road to Vinoteca – for more wine.
Words & Pics: Stephen Emms