Monday, 8 February 2016

Bob Bob Ricard - The Great Gatsby Evening

Bob Bob Richard is a date restaurant. 

It’s quite perplexing. I looked at the menu online and thought, wow, there is nothing appealing on the menu; yet I still really wanted to go. Perhaps it’s the “Press for Champagne” button, or the opulent Great Gatsby interior, or the dress code that vaguely denotes “elegant”… Whatever it was, I wanted to be part of that glamorous scene. And he indulged me, like he always does. 

The place was as enchanting and suave as anticipated; the plush booths with royal blue leather sofa and marble tables, separated by dark mahogany and brass rails. First things first - we pressed for champagne. A snazzy gent appeared like a champagne genie out of thin air to take our drinks order. He went for more conventional champagne, I chose a champagne cocktail with strawberries. 

Good thing neither of us were hungry after our long lunch at Paradise Garage, because staring at the menu, I was still struggling to pick something… anything! We both knew Russian dumplings were uninspiring, caviar was unnecessary, venison tartar we have had in the last two consecutive meals, half the stuff on the menu was so straight-forward and unimaginative I could probably do better in my kitchen. I guess we were ready to leave after we had pressed the Champagne button. Except we didn’t. 

Salmon Tartare Garnished with Cucumber, fennel and Horseradish
After much debate of whether I was allowed my third venison tartare in a row, we settled on this. 

It was’t seasoned like a tartare with soft acidity to prompt freshness, just roughly cut raw salmon shaped in a disc, topped with salmon roe and chopped shallot. The flavours come from the fat; it was relatively lean salmon and with minimal dressing, it didn’t really taste of much. The cucumber and fennel on the side, however, was drowned in pickle juice...

Beef Onglet 28 day aged scotch beef, served with onion puree, watercress and truffle puree and truffle gravy 
I like onglet, or hanger steak; it’s flavourful, lean and tender when done right. He seemed new to the cut though. The steak was sliced thinly across the grain to prevent it from the dire sinewy texture, then grilled over high heat to a crimson medium rare to retain its softness and juices. This was mostly fine except it arrived cooler than lukewarm. We sent it back.

The kitchen did little but placed it under the heater for a few minutes. Re-heating it would have overcooked the meat, but I’d much rather they re-fired a fresh steak. Afterall onglet isn’t exactly a pricey cut, is it? The onion puree, watercress puree AND truffle puree together with the gravy rendered the plate a mushy mess. The flavours were great, the powerful steak cut through its accompaniments, it just didn’t look very appealing in a slosh of purees. 

Lobster Macaroni & Cheese Made with fresh lobster, swiss cheese and parmesan
Don’t get too excited about the tail on top, it’s a dried up shell purely for decorative purposes, because even the kitchen knows it looks shit without it. Whether an empty lobster shell is any better - debatable. 

It was good though, a thick gooey cheese sauce with shellfish essence and chunks of lobster meat. One couldn't tell if it was fresh lobster when it was being doused in cheese sauce. The pasta was slightly overcooked, given my revised expectations of the kitchen’s capability, I almost took it as a given.

French Fries
Yea I wanted fries on the side; they didn’t have creamed spinach. I couldn’t help but snigger at the fries presented in a baby pink striped McDonald’s-style paper box with BBR logo on the front. For crying out loud, at £5.95, at least do better than a card box.

Dulce de Leche Creme Brûlée served with orange drizzle
I don’t usually like orange on my desserts, but creme brûlée was a good idea - it was okay, nothing memorable.

Despite the food being atrociously boring and scandalously overpriced, I really enjoyed my evening at Bob Bob Ricard... baffling, right? The Orient Express-inspired decor conjured the most romantic and luxurious ambience, so much so that I had long accepted that I wasn’t there for the food. I liked the champagne, the intimacy of a booth, the dim lights, the mood, the conversation...

He makes everything great; I felt a million dollars.

1 Upper James Street
Tel: 0203 145 1000

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Paradise Garage - Down to Earth Goodness

After a slightly underwhelming dinner at The Manor the previous evening, a morning full of surprises and my failed London transport planning, we arrived at Paradise Garage 20mins late. He chose the venue because they are supposed to serve great Bloody Marys, though our expectations of the food somewhat dwindled after our experience at The Manor. 

The restaurant was only a few railway arches from Mission. The cosy dining room was warmly lit with hanging light bulbs against white tiled walls; the dining tables were much more polished than its sister restaurant. The menu was not dissimilar to The Manor, we spotted similar ingredients in slightly different recipes. Given there were four of us plus a baby, I opted out of the tasting menu and chose a couple of small plates from each section and the signature whole rabbit as our main. Bloody Mary - tick.

Venison Tartare, preserved egg yolk and watercress
Yep, I ordered venison tartare at The Manor and yes it was the second venison tartare in 2 consecutive meals. And if he hadn’t reined me in, I would have ordered venison tartare again at Bob Bob Richard that evening for dinner too. What can I say, I really like it!

The mildly seasoned venison was diced in small cubes and served with a semi-cooked yolk, which reminded me of the one in Smokehouse. The gooey egg carried an intense richness that accentuated the raw brilliance of the meat, drawing out the delicate flavours with a smooth mouthfeel. Interestingly he didn’t like this venison tartare as much as I did. He felt the preserved custardy yolk somewhat defied its purpose and left the meat dry.

Grilled Leek, federia mousse and toasted buckwheat
The leek was succulent and sweet, lightly charred on the outside to give it a touch of smoky bitterness. The airy mousse with light yeasty, cheesy aroma served as a dip to the crunchy leeks. The toasted buckwheat was quite hard and harsh on teeth, I would have preferred to have gone without. Still good overall.

Daphne’s Welsh Lamb, lamb’s fry, Jerusalem artichoke and cavolo nero
This was excellent. The lamb cutlet was roasted to a scarlet pink and of milky tenderness, with a small rind of charred fat that oozed the soft nutty taste of lamb, complemented by the bitter greens and meaty jus. The small nugget wrapped in a crispy shell clung onto the creamy sauce; it was a delectable contrast to the delicate chop. 

Galician octopus, smoked cod roe, calcot onion & sorrel
The cubes of octopus tentacles were bouncy but not overly chewy; its seafood sweetness has disappeared but the dollops of roe cream and verde salsa-like dressing made up for the flavour. It was good, though nothing too impressive.

Picnic Whole rabbit for the table - roasted saddle, confit leg, turnover, offal and rabbit bascon with sautéed chicory, capers, radish & artichoke piccalilli

This rabbit was much bigger and meatier than I expected. The saddle brese was soft, similar to chicken though perhaps juicier; with a healthy pour of the thick flavoursome gravy, it was a satisfying mouthful of boneless chow. As an avid pastry lover, he particularly appreciated the turnover that was packed with shreds of rabbit meat and root vegetable dice in a thick broth, encased in crumbly, fluffy pastry.

It was an excellent alternative to a Sunday Roast.

Dark chocolate brûlée, stem ginger ice cream, rum & pears (front); Innis and Gunn beer ice cream quince & malt (back)
The beer ice cream was particularly interesting. the huge cloud of cream was malty with a distinctive wheaty-bitter aftertaste. 

Spiced pumpkin tart, creme fraiche ice cream and pecans

We spent the better part of our Sunday afternoon in the warmth of Paradise Garage. It was a great space for catching up - good cocktails and nibbles for sharing in a cosy bubble of relaxing ambience. Staff was attentive and friendly, and most accommodating to the little one (who was on his best behaviour). Despite a similar menu to The Manor, I thought PG took more care in their cooking, delivered cleaner recipes where ingredients work better together. 

Excellent choice. 

254 Paradise Row
Bethnal Green
E2 9LE
Tel: 0207 613 1052