- Food & Drink
When I came back from Ballymaloe in July, I was a homeless little hobo. Or I would’ve been if it wasn’t for the generosity of Leonard, The Enigmatic Mr S and Mr B. They gave me a room of my own and, 6 weeks later, when it became apparent I was the worst sort of houseguest (the kind that won’t leave), they found me somewhere to live.
They didn’t charge me a penny of rent, so I offered to take them for dinner to say thank you. A mere 3 months later I made good on my promise and booked a table at Bob Bob Ricard, Soho’s most opulent purveyor of burgers and vodka.
I arrived early and settled down in our booth with an English 75. A flute of gin, earl grey syrup, lemon juice and sparkling wine, it was a little bit too sweet for me and the only thing I didn’t enjoy all evening. By contrast, Mr S’s Garden Tonic (Pimm’s, elderflower, lime, mint, bitters and tonic) was like drinking a walk in a summer garden (a good thing) and Mr B’s Old Fashioned was declared perfect.
Arriving last, Leonard didn’t get a cocktail because the vodka was already on it’s way. Leonid, the convivial Bob Bob 2/3s of Bob Bob Ricard, had come over to say hello and compare notes on sloe gin making (they have some that’s been maturing for 2 years, which puts my impatient 3-month wait in the shade). Mr B’s interest in the zakuski prompted an explanation and an order of home cured Russian herring, Russian salad with shaved black truffle and shots of Kauffman vintage vodka.
Leonid explained that we were to knock back the vodka and then eat a forkful of one of the zakuski. I complied, tipping the glass of smooth, icy vodka down my throat and forking up a plump chunk of sweet-sour herring.
“The vodka opens up the flavours,” explained Leonid. It certainly did, the glacial warmth of the vodka smoothing the way for the tart richness of the herring. I followed it up with a scoop of Russian salad, something that normally wouldn’t be high on my list of foods for seduction, but the creamy heap of vegetables topped with knee-trembling slithers of truffle was the sexiest version I’ve ever eaten.
Baskets of good bread and butter kept hunger at bay while we ordered our meals. Having developed a taste for cured fish, I opted for the pickled herring with beetroot and apple salad. 2 huge, fat fillets of herring, sweet-fleshed and sharp with salt, came with a refreshing but earthy chopped salad and a silken-yolked egg.
Leonard ordered the carpaccio of tuna niçoise, Mr S had the scallop and shrimp pie and Mr B had venison tartare – 3 dishes I can tell you absolutely nothing about because they were hoovered up in record time, the occasional: “This is brilliant” emerging between mouthfuls.
For mains Leonard ordered the meat pelmeni and Mr S had the slow cooked pork cheeks. Again, I can’t tell you a thing about them because they vanished before I could dance my fork anywhere near the plates. But then I was busy with the roast leg of Elwy Valley lamb that Mr B and I were sharing.
Spiky with rosemary, smothered in garlic and carved into thick, juicy slices, this was a roast to remember. We’d ordered boiled potatoes, spinach and sprout tops to go with it and worked our way manfully through the daintily turned leg with the aid of gravy and a floral mint jelly. Mr B lived out his Henry VIII fantasies by picking up the bone to gnaw the last of the meat from it at the end.
Beginning to feel the strain at our waistbands, we ordered just 2 puddings. A chocolate raspberry trifle for Mr B that was so good it earned him a congratulatory high 5, and 3 scoops of ice cream for Leonard and me. Although from the picture you’d think we’d ordered just 2 scoops.
This is because the salted caramel was so good we demolished it before I’d even turned my camera on. It’s by far the best version I’ve eaten in London. The peanut butter and banana ice cream was excellent, leaving the Valhrhona chocolate, which would’ve been outstanding in any other situation, to bring up the rear.
We rounded the meal off with mint tea, a glass of Tokaji and a brandy. I was going to say that we sat there replete, but I think a more accurate term would be seduced. The decadent setting, suave service and shamelessly big, bold flavours had left us reeling like a teenager at their first ball.
The bill for 3 cocktails, 4 starters, 4 main courses, 3 side dishes, 2 desserts, 3 baskets of bread (the 4th was free), 2 bottles of silken Petit Clos 2007 pinot noir, mint tea, Tokaji, brandy and service came in at under £290 (the zakuski and vodka were complimentary). A bargain for a night of indulgent hedonism and the most enjoyable rent cheque I’ve ever written.