There are many laudable things about Soho’s Bob Bob Ricard: the fancy Titanic-meets-Orient-Express interiors, the no-nonsense Franco-Anglo-Russian menu that turns a fish pie or a chicken kiev into a minor culinary event.
But the thing everybody remembers is the “Press for Champagne” button on every table, a gimmick that perfectly encapsulates the personality of the place; expensive, silly, unashamedly nouveau riche, possessed of a fuck-you swagger.
A year and a half behind schedule and £25m in the making, a second incarnation called Bob Bob Cité has opened on the 3rd floor of the City’s Cheesegrater building, and it’s even madder than the first. Russian restaurateur Leonid Shutov has been talking up the obsessive attention to detail: 800 bespoke light fittings, 24 chandeliers, 12km of steel trim and 48,000 hand-polished ‘snake eye’ rivets which alone cost more than the entire budget of most restaurant makeovers.
When the lift doors open, there’s no mistaking where all the moolah went. It’s ridiculously opulent, absurdly textured, ludicrously detailed. The walk from reception desk to dining room is like passing through a hall of mirrors into a giant pinball machine. It’s hard to take in, like an optical illusion – one minute it’s a pastiche of a 1950s diner, the next the cabin of a private jet, then a latter-day Damian Hirst installation.
It gives you the feeling that if it were tipped on its side or upside-down, Inception-style, it would still look exactly the same. In a nod to the City’s stock-trading heritage, the dining room is ringed by scrolling blue LED numbers, whose purpose becomes clear when you hit the rebranded “Presser pour Champagne” button: your table number turns red and a little man appears clutching a bottle of fizz.
As in Bob Bob Ricard, booths make up the majority of the seating, and every table has a plug for charging your phone. This makes sense here, given this will be the restaurant of choice for the insurance brokers and asset managers who populate the Cheesegrater’s less ostentatious floors, men and women who need to be constantly jacked into the matrix to survive.
Frenchman Eric Chavot is once again in charge of the menu, which this time stresses the “Franco” in Franco-Anglo-Russian. I’m a big fan of Chavot. He once told me I should ditch my Converse in favour of a pair of Chelsea boots, and that I should propose to my girlfriend; she likes to remind me that I followed half of his advice and that the Chelsea boots look very nice.
Given Bob Bob Cité is about as City A.M. as restaurants get, I was in for dinner on opening night, when it had a slightly restricted menu but no obvious teething problems. I had duck egg with gruyère and truffle foam slathered over salt beef hash, a joyously sloppy dish made up entirely of textures that melt and ooze and squish. My guest had a wedge of smoked salmon the size of a doorstop, which sat triumphantly in a puddle of lemon jelly and green gazpacho.
If there’s a pie on a menu, I’ll order it every time, because it’s both simple and easy to mess up. Chavot’s chicken and mushroom pie is exemplary: a golden sliver of pastry so glazed you can see your face in it, covering a deep dish of morels in a decadently fatty sweet wine velouté. It’s as good a pie as you’re likely to find, with the finishing touch being the words “Bob Bob Cité” branded onto the lid like a signature (matching the bespoke Wedgwood crockery, of course).
I was hooked. I came back for lunch a couple of days later, sitting among the same business crowd. I piled into snails in parsley butter, topped with little shards of bacon and potato foam; salty, smoky, very, very garlicky. It’s a dish I’d like to be buried with like an Egyptian Pharaoh, so I can continue to eat it in the next life. Then heritage tomatoes with anchovies: brilliant in a way that doesn’t require explanation.
And to round it all off, the famous lobster mac and cheese, which is, if I recall correctly, a direct port from Bob Bob Ricard, minus the lobster tail erupting from the surface as if the poor creature had fallen into it from a great height. It’s pure comfort food, offensively indulgent, the crisped surface giving way to a molten, stringy, ungodly combination of cheddar, gruyère, parmesan and mozzarella, somehow packing in about a dozen lobsters’ worth of meat. Like smoking a fag, I reckon each time you eat one it knocks 15 minutes off your life. Worth it.
It’s been a long time since the City was considered the poor-man of the London dining scene, but it has been lacking the kind of destination restaurant that really makes your jaw flap, a place you can imagine a famous sportsman getting someone pregnant in the loos.
Bob Bob Cité is that restaurant. It’s mad as a bag of snake-eye rivets, and there’s nowhere in the Square Mile I’d rather eat.