Saturday, 13 February 2010

A little water and a few snacks: Vintage Vodka Vertical at Bob Bob Ricard

The first thing that strikes you about this restaurant is its name, Bob Bob Ricard.  It is owned by two young men, one English, the other Russian.  The Englishman is Richard, hence Ricard, and the Russian is Leonid, hence, erm, Bob.  Bob owns two thirds and Ricard one thus two Bob (Bob Bob) to one Ricard (not sure if Bob, or Leonid, knows the significance of two bob as in 10p in modern parlance.  Not sure either, come to think of it, whether Ric(h)ard knows the significance of Ricard, the French lorry driver's apéritif of choice).  Anyway, the restaurant's stated aim is to offer posh English food all day long, and well into the night, though from a cursory glance at the menu one notices quite a Russian influence.    Indeed, the point of the event I was invited to was to pair Russian vodkas, including a couple of vintage ones, to a variety of Russian hors d'oeuvres, or zakuski,  and, as a sop to Ricard perhaps,  a main course of beef Wellington.
I am not a great spirits drinker though enjoy peaty Islay malts with smoky kippers and recently have drunk and enjoyed Johnny Walker at Indian Zing and various malts at a Burn's Night Chinese dinner at Min Jiang.  Smoked or spicy or sour food can be very challenging for most wine and I came to Bob Bob Ricard with an open mind on teaming up food with vodka.
A small group of us, all bloggers, joined the co-owners in a charming little room off the main restaurant where we were eased into the idea of spirit drinking with the house apéritif, rhubarb gin & tonic which tasted gently of fresh rhubarb.  We then moved onto Kauffman Vodka 2006 which we were instructed to drink in one gulp and to follow immediately with the jellied ox tongue & creamed horseradish.  The visual impact of the dish outweighed its flavour though the aspic was carefully made, very clear and not too bouncy through excess gelatine.  The vodka was smooth and tasteless.  Leonid explained that vodka doesn't have its own flavour and so needs to be partnered with food.  Mmm.

The next dish was the cliché one associates with vodka: caviar, blinis and sour cream.  In fact, caviar and blinis (and vodka) are the only Russian words I can think of which have entered the English language (though bistro we use as if it were French but it is actually the Russian for quickly).  This caviar was the equivalent of Oscietre and came from Catalonia (Cold River) at a safe distance from the mafia in the Caspian Sea who control much of the traditional industry today.  It was mild, delicately salty, and hardly fishy at all.  The Kauffman 2003 vodka again was practically tasteless and didn't react with the fish eggs in any positive (or negative) way.

Next we had a break from vodka (the previous group of bloggers having disgraced themselves apparently) and four different dishes arrived to share: thin slices of cured Orkney beef with celeriac, blueberries & roasted hazelnuts; thin slices of pickled beetroot with goat's cheese & mint; potted shrimps; and rabbit, foie gras & date terrine.

I was hankering after wine and when launching into the goat's cheese my taste buds cried out for some sauvignon blanc.  I was beginning to think the dishes were too refined  and polite for my taste, ladies-who-lunch fare, but then tasted the potted shrimps which were rich, tasty and quite outstanding.  Now I needed some white Burgundy!    The salty butter had been softened (so often it's fridge hard) and the piscine character of the little brown shrimps had been heightened by a sleight of hand addition of anchovy (not sure if any lady-who-lunches would want to know this detail).  

Just as I felt as if I was turning into a lady-who-lunches myself glasses of Russian Standard Platinum vodka were poured.  The retail price of £15 a bottle was announced for this (as opposed to the £170 for the Kauffman 2003) which reassured me we might get more than just a thimbleful.  This was served with salt-cured herring, raw onion    & new potatoes.  The vodka was tasteless (so I shall be buying this brand for home and saving £155) but somehow took the salty edge off the fish.  I felt perhaps I was beginning to get the hang of this.

The next vodka was Russian Standard Imperia (£20 retail).  The extra cost premium over Platinum was because of the extra filtration the spirit goes through resulting in yet even less flavour.  This was served with salmon roe on hard-boiled quails' eggs.  I think roe of the salmon superior, or at least tastier, to that of sturgeon and enjoyed the fishy aftertaste mingling with the fumes of the vodka.  I mentioned to my erudite neighbour Sig (aka Scandilicious amongst the twitterati) that Fino sherry would have coped with the multifarious flavours we were trying but she rightly pointed out that wine transforms food whereas vodka stays in the background and at most cleanses the palate in between mouthfuls.  A concept my oenophile palate was struggling with (Sig is half Norwegian). 

The evening was really taking on an egg theme, appropriately so in the week leading up to Shrove Tuesday, and the next dish was quails' eggs mayonnaise with anchovies.  At this stage, any ladies-who-lunch would have moved onto sorbet or been past caring and whole anchovy fillets proudly adorned each egg in a puddle of mayo.  Beluga was the vodka served here.  

The next dish was stand out for texture alone: perfect little meat pelmeni dumplings of sublimely smooth pasta enveloping mince.  Here we were treated to Beluga Gold Line from Siberia.  

Next was salo on rye bread.  This is thinly sliced backfat and is a traditional accompaniment to vodka apparently.  Much humour was derived by calling it lard on toast.  It had a pleasant, mildly piggy taste, not as strong as Iberico ham fat.  We were served Stolichnaya Gold with this which turned out to be the strongest tasting vodka of the evening; or should I say, the least mild tasting of the evening.  Leonid pointed out that this vodka is made more for Western tastes and isn't one he would choose himself.  I found it quite fruity and enjoyed it with the pig.  

The final zakuska was malosol (lightly salted) cucumber which accompanied Stolichnaya Elit.  This costs £80 retail and consequently had less flavour than the cheaper Gold.  The cucumber tasted of, well, salty cucumber.  As Ricard said when spotting me taking notes and the pic: "it's only a f***ing cucumber!"  I felt like retaliating by pressing the button below.

After zakuski came the main course proper which was Aberdeenshire Longhorn 28-day aged beef in a Wellington with veg.  The beef was good if a tad overcooked because allowed to sit (politely) under the hotlamp awaiting the extremely late arrival of a fellow diner.  Now I was gagging for wine.  One day, I'd like to return and try out a claret maybe from the very appealing and relatively sensibly priced wine list.

To follow, we were offered pud and I shared a very good crème brûlée which actually floored the half bottle of château Rieussec 2003.  Sauternes is normally such an apt combination with this dish but perhaps wine in a half bottle from a heatwave vintage was not the ideal choice.  Ricard's crème caramel was a milder match.  Sig's very pretty fruit jelly tasted pleasantly vinous (ah, decent wine at last!).  Ollie's soufflé looked outstanding but he wasn't sharing.

All in all, the evening was enjoyable, the staff charming, the hosts genial and an entertaining double act, natural restaurateurs in spite of their advertising backgrounds, the food refined and carefully prepared, the design of the restaurant art deco-ish, reminiscent of certain Parisian brasseries, but more darkly lit and in parts laid out like an upmarket railway wagon.  The gents' loos however are not very Parisian or railway wagon and are the smartest (and amongst the cleanest) I've come across in London.  Not normally worthy of a mention I know but I did regret not taking some photos.  The ladies, I imagine, are sumptuous.

On my way home, I had to remind myself that vodka is the diminutive of water (voda) in Russian and I understood that taste is not really the point: clean, pure, smooth, colourless spirit is all and the more you pay, the more the spirit is distilled (and redistilled), and filtered (and refiltered) through silver, quartz and sand and so the less it has any taste.  And presumably, the less it gives you a hangover.  And if you drink it at 4'C to 7'C, as we did, you barely notice the alcohol, much.
I was a guest of Bob Bob Ricard at this event and the shots of the restaurant entrance & members' bar are taken from their


  1. Excellent review. :) Think I must re-visit Bob Bob Ricard soon.

  2. I went to one of these a couple of weeks ago. The next day I had the most incredible hangover. It was outrageous. I'll definitely go back for food here though - who knew Russian food could be good?! Those dumplings were amazing, I agree.

  3. It certainly was a thought provoking evening, and so much fun with such generous, fun loving hosts. Those pelmeni were rather addictive. I enjoyed the whole ceremonial aspects of shooting back vodka before every mouthful - might take this up at home.

  4. Thanks for reading the review. Sorry it's so long but the hosts were very generous with the number of dishes served. I'd like to go back and experiment with sipping the vodka and perhaps serving it at a warmer temperature. I'm a bit biased towards wine but evenings like this are beginning to wean me off automatically reaching for the wine list.

  5. A thorough and illuminating post Patrick, it was a splendid evening and you captured it perfectly! Came away with a whole new appreciation of vodka (am a whisky girl when it comes to spirits!) and it sounds like you did too ;-)

  6. well as a lady who very much likes to lunch (and is currently enjoying a mid afternoon fino sherry, and gentelman's relish on toast......)i loved your review, the food sounded amazing though you didnt do much to tempt me to vodka!!!