July 2016: Anna Haugh, previously head chef at Gordon Ramsay's London House in Battersea, has joined Bob Bob Ricard as the new executive chef.
Harden's survey result
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“An emergency champagne button.... what more can you ask for!?” – Leonid Shutov’s splendidly “OTT” Soho venue, with its conspiratorial and “romantic” booths, provides a “gorgeous setting for a fun night out” or “enjoyable brunch”. Critics fear its “comfort” food is “expensive and ordinary”, but most reporters feel it’s “very enjoyable”.
“Love the ‘press for champagne’ button on every table!” – this “wacky” Soho diner is “perfect for an intimate meal” or “girl’s lunch” thanks to its fun, boothed seating, “OTT” decor and “charming” service; on the downside, the cooking is no more than “high-end comfort food” and “prices are silly for what you get”. Top Menu Tip – “excellent beef Wellington”.
“Subdued light, romantic booths, and quirky touches like a button to summon champagne” – all conducive to creating a “brilliant” impression at this madly “luxurious” Soho diner; “you pay for all that gorgeousness”, naturally, but the “high-end comfort food” is generally very “enjoyable”.
“Frankly ridiculous decor” – complete with boothed seating, and a champagne call-button on every table – sets the decadent tone of this “quirky” but “glamorous” Soho venue, where “high-end comfort food” is twinned with “wonderful bargains on top-end wine”.
Bob Bob Ricard W1
Handily located on Soho's former Circus (RIP) site, a beautifully-appointed 'instant classic' brasserie; its convoluted English menu, however, offers many overpriced dishes, and, on our first-day visit, food and service largely disappointed.
They've just spent so much money on this much-awaited new Soho corner brasserie. We're not always total fans of the much in-demand designer David Collins, but we take our caps off to him for this one. It is as if he was entrusted with a large blank cheque, and has used it to create a fantasy Parisian brasserie de luxe of the late-'30s. Entirely in keeping, the staff have been given characterful but very smart uniforms, which teeter just on the right side of camp. If you want to live out your Murder on the Orient Express fantasies in the heart of the West End, this is most certainly the place.
Alas and alack, almost everything else on our day one visit to the place was a disappointment. First disaster - entirely self-inflicted - is the oddly-structured menu. Why take a beautiful, essentially Gallic-style interior - probably the best of its type in London -Â and then foist a British menu on it? Even in New York, all the best brasseries - most famously the ones run by an expatriate Englishman - are French. This whole British thing is getting out of hand. British cuisine is not a 'natural' for restaurants, and restaurateurs should think very carefully before letting it escape from of its natural gastropub environment.
Not only is the menu wrong in nationality, it's also wrong in presentation: we thought that silly little thing was a cocktail list. Turns out it's the multi-page menu, with helpful indications running down the side telling you which bits are available when - this place is open from early-morning till the early hours. Why, reflecting the setting, can't we have a lovely impressive carte?
And then there's the price thing. Perhaps there are Soho punters who want to kick off with a langoustine cocktail (£16), and then have a spot of grouse (£30-odd), followed by a champagne jelly (that would be another £16 then), but these are the sorts of prices people have always complained about at Wilton's, in the heart of St James's clubland. Our comparison, however, is unfair: on the same day, grouse was actually cheaper at Wilton's!
You don't have to go for the £100/head end of the menu of course, and a more standard dish might be the likes of the fish of the day for £17.50 (or you could have a salad and a glass of wine for sub-£20). It's very easy, though, as we did, to spend more than a ton on a standard lunch for two. Those sorts of prices - at any time of day - are just not consistent with an all-day/late-night diner, unless standards are truly exceptional.
But little about our lunch was exceptional. The 'book ends' of bread and coffee were very good, but most things in between were some variation on so-so. Macaroni cheese was of very good quality, but came in an absurdly small portion for a supposed main course. A curry lacked heat (both types). Red mullet lacked distinction. Trifle was horribly over-sweet. High point was a starter of potted pork, which came with some very good toast.
Everything took an age to come. We know it was the first day, but if you're still de-bugging the kitchen, give a discount on the bills: everyone will understand, and everyone will be forgiving. Charge full whack, and people go off and write reviews like this one.
Which is a real shame. This is a restaurant which still could become one of the best, most notable and most useful in the heart of London. The service will no doubt sort itself out. But they still need urgently to consider introducing a different (and much more Gallic) menu slant, a more compelling menu presentation and considerably more attractive prices.
In this sort of market, there really is no time to waste.
1 Upper James Street, London, W1F 9DF
Mon - Wed 12.30 pm - 3 pm; 6 pm - midnight; Thur - Sat 12.30 pm - 3 pm, 5.30 pm - 1 am; Sun 12.30 pm - 3 pm; 5.30 pm - midnight
Last orders: Mon - Fri 11.15 pm; Sat midnight; Sun 11.15 pm