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|Address:||1 Upper James Street, London W1F 9DF|
|Tel:||020 3145 1000|
|Price: £60.00||Wine: £26.50||Champagne: £66.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Fri 12N-3pm 6-11pm Sat 5.30-10pm|
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A moral dilemma: is it ethical for a restaurant to include on its wine list the prices that you'd pay at its competitors' pads? Does it make it any easier to take if the person most prodded is Gordon Ramsay?
I know one restauranteur who thinks it is a poor show. Me? I can see both sides: sure, it is nice to know that the Haut Brion is a quarter of the price here than at Marcus Waring, but then the food isn't really a quarter as good, so what does the comparison show? Add to this the fact that none of the wines appear to be cheaper anywhere else (did you check out the Union Cafe Bob?) and a fear that our friendly Bob is merely being mischievous. Now, were he to put the wholesale prices that the wines were bought at, that would be interesting.
And the wine list is very interesting. Along with the said HB (£362 if you must ask) there is a terrific selection by the glass, including the fine Grand-Puy-Ducasse and even the glorious Yquem '96, in both 100cl and a “tasting” size of 50cl. Genius. In fact, why do you need then to put down your fellow restaurants? Man-up Bob; you have a great wine list, don't knock others.
The room itself is, I think, supposed to be reminiscent of grand station cafes from the time of steam trains, sort of up-market American diner, with pink waistcoated boys and turquoise besuited girls. I'm afraid, to me it looked like I'd imagine the waiting room at a high class brothel would.
The menu is all day and mixes French and Russian, with British bits thrown in, so you get caviar and vodka shots, next to onglet, next to cream teas. All a bit confusing, but then Russia and France have a long culinary history; we have, if legend is to be believed, Napoleon's Russian troops in Montmartre to thank for the word “bistro”.
There are nice touches – a button to press for champagne, a plug for the toaster that comes with afternoon tea, that sort of thing. But its all a bit gloomy on a bright summer's afternoon.
The food was perfectly adequate, but didn't really illuminate the gloom. The pickled herring with beetroot was a lovely colourful palate and the potted prawns were perfectly serviceable. This dish started well, with the dressing on the watercress salad being lovely. The prawns themselves came in a creamy, anchovy infused binding, rather than the more traditional clarified butter. Fine as it was, although a bit salty, a sensation heightened by the toast that accompanied it, which was itself highly salted. I know the latest report on whether salt is good for you or not has said go for it, but there is a limit. This went beyond that limit.
Mains too were fine: the chicken Kiev a little let down by not enough garlicky butter (what else is the point of the dish?), but the veal Holstein flat, breaded and with a fried quail's egg mounting it very pleasant indeed.
We skipped deserts and instead spent the money on a thimbleful sized glass of Yquem. A glorious honey marmalade of a wine, that needed nothing plated to accompany it.
So go for the food if you must, but stay for the wine and Bob, come on, tell us how much you paid for them. You tell us how much we have to pay you, so it seems only fair.