The latest addition to the Bob Bob Ricard family (I don’t think we will ever consider this a ‘chain’ in the usual, Pizza Express sense of the word), Bébé Bob in Soho’s Golden Square promises an intimate, 56-cover experience for discerning diners. With its focus on French poultry, the menu boasts two tantalising chicken varieties hailing from Vendée and Landes.
On entering, the separate bar area is simply sublime; sitting here is what I imagine being on board Concorde must have been like, sipping champagne next to Joan Collins. Nonetheless, a glance at the cocktail list is enough to draw tragic parallels with a Simmons (and other places where mimosa and passion fruit martinis belong), but as these come with the restaurant’s signature fanfare, I can’t fault the best intentions behind them. It is one of the reminders that a measure of a restaurant isn’t solely tethered to the perfection of its dishes, and orchestrations of impeccable hospitality can occasionally overshadow the minor symphony playing on the plate.
The menu is resoundingly what every sane person would choose for their death row meal – caviar, oysters, vodka shots, steak tartare, roast chicken with all the trimmings, Honey Cake, Paris-Brest. There is something undeniably clever about the concept where one’s choice is between ‘chicken’ and ‘chicken’, opening the appetite to go all out on the starters and sides. And what starters they were!
Few things in life are certain, but you will always leave this restaurant stuffed to your earlobes with decent food
We began with the baked Saint-Marcellin with truffle honey (hooray for not writing ‘truffled’ on the menu, as if it’s a verb that means anything). I am yet to have an unpasteurised dairy product that doesn’t hit the spot. It was appropriately warmed and balanced (not overbaked to the point of turning into a failed Year 7 science experiment).
Oysters were perfectly inhalable…well, they were shucked and plated and did not poison us. It’s an unspoken rule to order these at Bob Bob Ricard, so for the sake of consistency, we had a dozen.
Having ordered the free-range Vendée Chicken as the main, which costs £19 per person, I realised that there was no such thing as an unhappy hen here. Truly cooked to perfection, each hungry diner will be served breast, leg, and a solitary wing, with impeccably cooked skin. And I mean it when I say it’s crisp; you can carry on arguing about Brexit and dangers of chlorinated chicken between mouthfuls, rather than chewing for the next 20 minutes.
Now, about this perpetual obsession with thick gravy. I am forever reconciling Islingtonians arguing that it’s actually called ‘jus’, who are just clueless about the difference between the two, and Northerners whose lifelong ambition is to turn their plates into miniature swamps. The persistent grumbles about viscosity, echoing like a broken record in every restaurant. Gravy, my dear, doesn’t always have to be a pudding in its own right. It’s like wishing for torrential rain when a gentle drizzle would do and avoiding the need to drown your entire meal like the great floods of Yorkshire folklore. The point is, this chicken was perfectly cooked, and thus only needed a kiss of velvety sauce, which was nailed to a T.
I will never be able to fault the atmosphere and service across the Bob Bob Ricard family. The signature pink hues warm the entire space, contrasting elegantly with the precise, almost surgical arrangement of the cutlery. Soft carpeting cushions each step, while the gentle reflections from the polished silver trolley going around adds to the luxurious ambience. I would be perfectly happy sitting here for hours without even ordering anything – all this luxury without breaking the bank feels a bit like winning the lottery while also finding a fiver in your pocket.
Alas, I was shuttled back to earth as soon as I was presented with the merest tease of truffle on my chips. For £8, I want the truffle party of the decade. I want an avalanche of it, where I get to be like Scrooge McDuck diving into a pool of gold coins. This faint whiff of it only made me feel like they had scrapped the bottom of their truffle piggy bank, and I vividly remember getting more of it when ordering a Truffle Martini at Dukes (and I will not apologise for my rogue martini order, ever). These teething problems may be ascribed to a bébé, but over at Bob Bob Ricard, they’re still piling truffles onto those chips like they’ve got a shovel from the garden centre.
Giacomo Recchia, the Head of Wines, has crafted a concise wine list, focusing on champagne and Burgundy. As a nod to tradition, Bob Bob’s wine prices remain refreshingly below market rates, and a bottle of their entry-level, perfectly drinkable Picpoul won’t set you back more than £39. As we have all witnessed far too many undrinkable ‘house’ wines elsewhere, which frequently break the £40 mark, often obnoxiously decanted into a carafe, I would argue that even if you’re not looking to go big on the Meursaults and Montrachets (and therefore benefit from their very low mark-up of £75), you will have a wonderful time.
For desserts, they have just about anything from Honey Cake (for which I have heard great words of praise) and Chocolate Fondant, and their usual boozy truffles and lemon vodka shots. However, it is imperative to order Paris-Brest or Montblanc whenever they feature on a dessert menu, and on this occasion, it was the former, so we shared a portion. The experience was mildly marred by the lackadaisical, desert-dry choux. However, getting to the rich, fatty filling and the fresh hazelnuts provided the buttery crescendo of sweetness and flavour. But as it is the pastry that does a lot of heavy lifting here, I would have been just as happy with a vat of this filling and a couple of Yum Yums from Gregg’s on the side.
Few things in life are certain, but you will always leave this restaurant stuffed to your earlobes with decent food. Bébé Bob should be celebrated for strutting its stuff like a 90s supermodel, with both style and substance. Of course, we should never forget where it came from, one press of a champagne button at a time. But for those who need a bit more reassurance and formality, they will always have Bar Americain and The French House nearby. Or Gerry’s, if it’s one of those nights.
37 Golden Square
by Milton Tomic