Much has been spoken of Bob Bob Ricard. Its funny name, its 'Press Here' for Champagne buttons but on arrival, I was blown away by the decadence of the place. It was the definition of glitzy and was sumptious as anything. Led to the private dining room, I was instructed to sit next to our host and we sipped on gorgeously candy pink rhubarb and gin cocktails.
After a quick introduction from Leonid (aka. Bob, coined by his business partner who found it tricky to pronounce Leonid), we got stuck in. A mouthful of ox tongue in aspic smeared with some horseradish cream was speared onto forks. Kauffman Special Selected Vintage 2006 was poured into cute little crystal glasses, and we were instructed to chuck it down the hatch and follow immediately with the food. Given I'm usually one to hold my nose when drinking shots, this slid down unexpectedly easily. The aspic was completely clear yet meaty, the flavours of the ox tongue well defined, sharpened and rounded off with the horseradish cream. Meanwhile, I quizzed Leonid about Russian life. I want to party in Moscow.
The next Kauffman, the Private Collection Luxury Vintage 2003 was a accompanied by caviar, blinis and sour cream. We were instructed to pile half the tin of caviar on the blinis, and we followed instruction duly. The blinis were warm and fluffy, like biting into a edible pillow. Again, the Kauffman was stand out for it's lack of flavour (a good thing in vodka) and smoothness.
Next came an intermission of starters to share for the table. Beetroot and goats cheese renewed my faith in the pairing - crisp discs of raw beetroot gave way to creamy light goats cheese. A pile of minted crushed broadbeans topped with pea shoots gave the dish a summery tone. Potted shrimp and anchovy was heart-stoppingly buttery, while gently smoked fillet of beef had the unusual but ultimately well balanced garnishes of blueberries and hazelnuts. Foie gras and rabbit terrine studded with dates was appropriately rich and velvety.
My favourite dish and combination of the night was the Russian salt-cured herring with raw onions and new potato. We were instructed to neck the Russian Standard Platinum vodka, then to eat the herring with the onion followed by the potato. As Leonid rightly told us, the salty fish was tartened by the onion, and then neutralised by the potato. The vodka was smooth, flavour-free and went down easily. The cheeky Dan asked for seconds, and Leonid looked doubtful. "I don't want you to go the wrong way like the others did". We reassured him otherwise and got stuck in.
Next, we faced an onslaught of quails eggs. They were stuffed with salmon roe, served with Imperia by Russian Standard. I'd have never thought fish eggs would work with quails eggs, but work they did and the salmon roe popped pleasingly in the mouth. Next up, quails egg mayonnaise, topped with a sliver of anchovy accompanied Beluga Vodka. The tasting notes describe this as having a hint of winter wheat, but I was still dazzled by the Russian Standard to take any notice.
Meat pelmeni reminded me of the Chinese Xiao Long Bao. Meaty dumplings surrounded by broth were encased in a thin yet chewy dough. Saucers of sour cream or white vinegar were for dipping and smearing, and they were good and hearty. We stopped our lovely and attentive waiter from taking them away to make room for the next dish, greedily shovelling any stragglers into our mouths.
Salo on rye bread, a fatty, cured pork was what prompted my declaration of piggy love, and the reason I was invited. Wafer thin, the pork fat melted on the tongue, but didn't detract from the fact that the Stolichnaya Gold vodka, so highly revered in London's clubs, felt as rough as a badger's arse. 'Twice distilled', a quality so highly prized is actually laughable; many of Russia's vodkas are distilled at least eight times.
When all this was over, we were treated to an immense beef wellington, much shinier and more bronzed than mine have ever turned out, in a final effort to soak up the booze and make sure we were compus mentus for work the next day. Desserts were ingested and the evening drew to a close. There was much discussion about the merits of vodka, since the whole point of the stuff is not to taste anything, unlike wine, which is all about the nose and the flavour. I don't think the two are comparable; they come from such different cultures and are enjoyed in such different ways. I have to say, I loved the Russian way and I have renewed respect for vodka, especially as my favourite is around £15 a bottle. A quick, smooth glug to spike the bloodstream with alcohol, and a delicious morsel in the mouth - what's not to love?
1-3 Upper James StreetLondon W1F 9DF
Tel: 020 3145 1000