Emily Rookwood visits 'posh Nando's' and a restaurant with a champagne button
This week's restaurant reviews are brought to you by the letter B. We put both Barnyard, a casual dining venture from Ollie Dabbous, and Bob Bob Ricard's new club room through their paces – one more successfully than the other.
Barnyard is meant to offer good home cooking without the washing up in an unsurprisingly barn-like room. So you have corrugated iron on the walls, lots of wood and exposed walls. My friend described it as a 'posh Nandos'. With Ollie Dabbous being one of the owners I'd hoped for really high quality cooking, even if the kitchen is being looked after by head chef Joseph Woodland.
The menu isn't divided into starters and mains, rather just a selection of dishes per animal, and somewhat confusingly the pricing does not indicate the size of the dish as you might expect.
We probably ordered a bit too much food for just two of us but unsure of the portions we didn't want to leave hungry. The lard on toast was disappointing. There was none of the delicious porky edge you'd hope for, rather just a lot of tasteless and gelatinous fat on some toasted bread.
The homemade sausage roll was made with good meat but wasn't that exciting. I've had better from farmers' markets back home. Chicken in a bun was pretty much a Ronseal moment – it did exactly what it says on the tin. The chicken was juicy but still underwhelming.
The bubble and squeak with black pudding was so nearly great but the all-over application of a sweet apple chutney was too much. It lacked the earthy, savory edge that a black pudding dish should have and resembled a black pudding tarte tatin. The short rib, however, was very good, nicely cooked, sweet from the treacle and smoky from the barbeque. And the charred broccoli was excellent.
Nothing was bad – it was all tasty (apart from the lard) – and it is good value on the whole with dishes coming in between ’3 and ’12. Perhaps my expectations were too high but I don't think I would choose to eat there again.
Bob Bob Ricard, though, is somewhere I'd happily go to again. Often in fact. They have recently revamped their club room downstairs and it is now a red and gold room of wonder. It is the Great (Russian) Gatsby meets Saturday Night Fever. I loved it.
Much like upstairs, the seating is in the form of booths, so you can hide away with your companions and abuse the champagne button. The full restaurant menu is available downstairs so you don't have to compromise on the food if you'd like to have a little extra party in your evening.
The menu is extensive, with many traditional Russian options including smoked borscht and the Russian salad – chopped potato, eggs, peas, carrots and onions all on a little cracker with a sliver of truffle on top, which should be served with vodka chilled to -18 degrees. As you do. The two go wonderfully together and surely is the most Russian way to start a dinner.
The venison tartare with quail's egg is wonderful and can be upgraded with the addition of caviar. That's a little extravagant but the venison and caviar do seem to bring out the best in each other. The Lobster Pelmeni are small ravioli-esque balls, dumplings really, filled with delicious lobster and topped with salmon roe. A lovely start to the meal or a bite to share while you enjoy your Taittinger.
On the main course front you have about ten choices on both the meat and fish side but I always plump for the lobster mac and cheese. It is ludicrously rich but what wonderful comfort food. Sweet, tender lobster sits in a creamy sauce and is covered in very fine breadcrumbs. It is naughty but very enjoyable.
This place is perfect for an evening of people watching and the staff are wonderful. As our waiter said, 'Bubbles make life better,' and how right he is. The one downside to the champagne button is you can't choose who presses it and sadly the rather over-excited girl in a rather too short dress opposite us pressed it – and enjoyed the results – a bit too much. Amusing, though.
If you'd rather have wine the menu helpfully points out the best deals on offer – with one bottle coming in roughly ’500 cheaper at BBR than at Helene Darroze. Worth knowing.
The Club Room is having an extended soft launch at the moment and is only open Thursday-Saturday, I believe, but if you can get in, do. It is guaranteed to be a fun evening.