My father, who famously eats almost anything, once told me that eating oysters is like “swallowing a cup of cold snot”. He is not wrong, I’ve tried them myself. Until last week, though, I’d never had one baked, which turned out to be quite revelationary. A baked oyster is the smoother, softer cousin of the scallop, and this one was smothered in melted parmesan and black truffle, a shellful of rich flavour that was silky, not slimy. It was exquisite.
The oysters, along with a great number of other gastronomic triumphs, were served up at Bob Bob Ricard on Beak Street, where I was attending a dinner in its private dining room. I’d brought along my housemate, James 2, who is one of these trendy designery types and therefore spent the entire evening in a state of wide-eyed glee because the restaurant is, well, just beautiful.
It has, however, taken them a very long time to perfect. Inspired by the dining carriages of the Orient Express and designed by interior designer bigwig David Collins, it has a wood fire and all sorts of steampunky details that create an atmosphere of understated decadence that hints of the romance of the railroad. (The old, glamorous kind, obviously. Any restaurant inspired by the filthy carriages of London Midland, I think, would not carry the same charm.)
But on to the food, which we all know is the best bit. Bob Bob Ricard is known for its rich twists on traditional English fare, so the menu is full of such dishes as venison tartare and chicken, mushroom & champagne pie served with truffle gravy, In fact, the whole thing is pretty truffle-heavy, it seems to be a surefire way to fancy things up, and why not? Those things are delicious.
We started with a selection of starters, which were heavy on seafood: salmon tartare, crab salad and sea bass ceviche, which is raw fish cured with lemon or lime juice. James 2, the fish fanatic, devoured everything as politely as possible, but my favourite thing was in fact the truffled potato and mushroom vareniki, a bite-sized Russian dumpling served with sour cream and a tiny halo of crispy onion served atop each one.
At such restaurants (i.e. posh ones), it’s sensible to split main courses in order to try as much as possible, so James 2 and I decided to share. I chose the three-bird burger, because how could I not? THREE BIRDS! And not even peasant fowl like chicken either, this was a juicy combo of quail, guineafowl and duck, encased in a brioche bun with stuffing and orange & cranberry chutney. The combination was enough to make Henry VIII go weak at the knees. We weren’t in Byron Burger country any more, that was for sure.
James 2 plumped for the ‘Chateaubriand for One’, an enormous slab of beef cooked to such breath-taking perfection I’d put it near the top of the Fit Meat List, along with bovine-bothering royalty like Gaucho and Hawksmoor.
I love chips more than almost anything else, but on this occasion I had a fit of uncharacteristic sophistication and chose the truffle mash to fill in as my carby sidekick instead. I’m glad I did; bugger me if it was not one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. When I am old, fat, toothless and have no fucks left to give, I will absolutely be eating this for every single meal.
We also ordered the parsnips and carrots with a vague notion of getting some veg in there, but it was cooked in beef dripping so probably doesn’t count.
By the end, we were stuffed. We’d eaten a lot of very sumptuous, buttery food and I was already feeling weighed down, not just with the steak and harem of small fowl that was on its jolly way though my digestive system, but with mounting horror and guilt as I realised how much work I was going to have to put in at the gym the next day.
But then pudding happened. I was going to just have a coffee, or perhaps a scoop of the salted caramel ice cream. But somehow my order got, er, confused, and I ended up with this:
Behold! the Chocolate Glory, a hot, sexy mess of chocolate mousse, chocolate brownie, meringue and passionfruit & orange jelly, encased in a golden globe of milk chocolate. It’s basically what Harry Potter would have had for his birthday if he hadn’t been locked in his room for it every year. The waiter ladled hot chocolate over the orb, which caused it to melt and cave in, revealing the hidden
calories treasure inside.
James 2 had the trio (!) of creme brulee: one chocolate, which was very good, one Earl Grey, which was interesting and novel but not OMG-GET-INSIDE-ME delicious, and one passionfruit, which was. Good god, it was insane. It’s up there with the truffle mash.
And then we rolled our way home. The food isn’t cheap, but it is magnificent. It’s actually usurped my previous favourite restaurant, Hakkasan, on the oysters alone. It’s a good shout for a special occasion, although if you keep your hands off the famous ‘press for champagne’ buttons found at every booth, you can eat here relatively inexpensively. Sure, you can spend £80 on 30g of caviar, but the venison cheeseburger, for instance, is only £16.75 – still pricier than your average burger, but not ruinous. And for the eclectic decor and truffled oysters, it’s worth treating yourself at least once.
You can find Bob Bob Ricard at 1 Upper James St, W1F 9DF, near Carnaby Street, and the full menu online.