Bob Bob Cité review: elegant food in riotous surrounds
New Golden Age of Flying restaurant adds to the Bob Bob mythos
Soho’s Bob Bob Ricard, the sister restaurant of the new Bob Bob Cité, is an explosion of camp; an arch high-design eruption of kitsch – all pink clad waiters, Murder on the Orient Express design, and “press for champagne” buttons – an obvious folly.
And yet, despite its jaunty menu (Russian meets French cuisine anyone?) and obvious OTT stylistic overload, it has nevertheless overcome the cynics’ criticisms, the naysayers’ misgivings, and the tastemakers’ objections and wormed its way into the hearts of Londoners. It was the restaurant no one knew they wanted - but in these dark uncertain times, it was precisely what we all needed.
Now, more than a decade on, the team behind the original is back with the first new venue that turns a neat boutique restaurant into the start of a franchise; a dangerous move for any successful eatery that risks diluting the original, and turning a charming one-off into a mass market culinary franchise.
Fortunately, Bob Bob Cité is the real deal; an exuberant extrapolation of a joyous first idea rather than a shameless corporate-minded reproduction of it. Golden Age of Travel remains the theme, but here trains are replaced with planes, in a frivolous homage to mid-twentieth century flying, when men apparently all wore three-piece suits and silk ties, and women glamorous dresses and pearls.
Bob Bob’s interpretation of this era includes pastel coloured leather airline-themed seats and wine coolers that look something like in-flight trolleys.
The pièce de résistance, however, might just be the way the restaurant has updated its famed press-for-champagne buttons, which here trigger a light on the wall corresponding with your table number, not only alerting waiters to your need for bubbly, but also neatly mimicking an airport departures board.
The whole fit out is said to have cost in excess of £25 million – expense that is on display at every turn. Here a room full of oversized champagne bottles, there a private dining room with plush bespoke chairs and gleaming brass ceiling inserts, not to mention the restaurant’s 25 bespoke chandeliers, 12.5 kilometres of mirror-polished steel trim and wall panels bedecked in Japanese bookbinding paper.
Owner Leonid Shutov said that the money spent on Bob Bob Cité’s 48,000 hand-polished wall panelling bolts alone “would be comparable to what some restaurants will spend on the entire refurbishment.”
So is it money well spent? In a word, yes, the restaurant is a strangely perfect setting for Michelin-starred head chef Eric Chavot’s menu of French comfort food, with classic dishes including veal blanquette, French onion soup and escargots en persillade.
It also comes as a two-fingered salute to the conservatism of many of the high-end restaurants that can be found in this moneyed quarter of London. The City boys and girls are sure to be appalled – or at the very least confused – and that is surely reason enough for this detonation of exotica.
Also, importantly, the food is good. Bob Bob Ricard’s food could sometimes end up secondary to the experience itself; at Bob Bob Cité, despite all the razzmatazz, what's on the plate always takes centre stage.
A starter of smoked salmon arrives in thick chunky cuts, served on potatoes and picked onions and topped indulgently with 10g of Siberian sturgeon caviar. A beautifully elegant plate, which immediately announces our lift off.
The steak tartare is traditional, with chopped Scottish rump steak with shallots, pickles and capers, but comes with a soft boiled quail’s egg – and if you go “imperial” another indulgent dollop of Siberia’s finest.
Next up, I reach for the pies (always a favourite from Bob Bob Ricard) selecting the chicken option, which comes topped with a glistening Bob Bob Cité-branded pastry lid. Across from me a brown-butter drenched dover sole disappears almost as soon as it arrives, along with the truffled chunky fries and grilled hispi cabbage that are briefly battled over in the no-man’s land at the centre of the table.
Finally, détente as my wife and I share a marvellous rum baba, whose vanilla Chantilly and vintage Panama rum ooze from the mushroom cloud-shaped dessert that sits between us. An explosive end to a perfectly pitched meal served in an entirely riotous venue – one that adds to the Bob Bob mythos, rather than subtracting from it.
Bob Bob Cité, Level 3, 122 Leadenhall St, EC3V 4AB, bobbobcite.com