I probably wouldn't have considered The Rib Room had I not been invited to dine there.
It's situated in a marble and gold bling Knightsbridge hotel. It's expensive. It's full of people who are at least as bling as the hotel and have pockets deep enough to stay there.
I'm not very bling. And I'm certainly not flash with the cash.
And yet my friend and I enjoyed a lovely meal there; somewhat to my surprise, if I'm honest. Certainly, as posh hotel restaurants go, the team are doing more than just going through the motions though the experience of a fellow food blogger suggests they need to do a much better job of sourcing their steaks, especially given the name of the restaurant.
So why did I go? As I stated in my comment on Chris' blog post, I usually accept restaurant review invitations only if it's the kind of place I'd normally visit on my own. This clearly doesn't fit and I'm definitely not the normal target audience. However, I found the menu really attractive, with a great range of British ingredients and dishes, several of which sounded great, on paper.
And frankly, I was in the mood for being cossetted. Having visited a fair number of low or no-service restaurants lately, the idea of being looked after by a team of well-trained professionals appealed.
And that's how it was. My friend and I chose very well, we enjoyed all our dishes and we felt well looked after by the staff.
We started with a drink at the bar, where I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer choice of cocktails in the list. Helpful barman Paolo came to the rescue, advising on choices and making up two delicious drinks, a Half Cut Passion for me and a Sipsmith G&T with vanilla for Matt.
Between watching Paolo make our drinks and settling in, we had a good look around the restaurant. The Martin Brudnizki interior is a pleasant space, with a leaning towards art deco styling. It's a good balance of modern and traditional. Slatted window blinds let in bright stripes of light; huge mirrors reflect it around the room. It's not a look to set the world on fire, but has a comfortable if clichéd understated elegance.
Having booked for an early lunch, we had the pick of the room and were seated on a corner banquette. Stripes of rare winter sunshine flooded in through slatted shutters.
In an odd nod to modernism, given the old-school styling, the wine list came on an iPad. The main advantage over a printed list was that one could search by region or type of wine or a number of other categories. I guess it would also be easier to update to reflect new additions and sold out choices... The disadvantage was that I managed to exit the wine list program by accident and couldn't work out how to relaunch it. That left me feeling pretty flustered, but Mac-savvy Matt quickly worked it out.
Bread was good and was served early enough that we could enjoy it whilst reading the menu. I dislike places that serve it only a moment before the starters come out.
I chose a starter of beef tartare (£16/ 32), which was prepared to order at the table. Ivan, our helpful waiter, showed me the prepped beef and ingredients and asked exactly how what I wanted. It took a fair bit of time for him to mix everything up, so diners wanting to get on with their meal might prefer to ask for it to be mixed and plated in the kitchen instead, but we were in no rush and enjoyed the spectacle.
The finished tartare was exactly as I'd requested. With all the added ingredients from gherkins and capers to garlic and shallots to herbs, a beaten egg, Tabasco and a splash of calvados, the overall flavour was pretty decent and for me the soft texture of the meat was pleasant, though I know many would prefer the meat to be chopped rather than minced.
Matt chose the pressed foie gras with dandelion and fig salad (£15). The foie gras itself was excellent, firm but yielding and nicely complimented by the salad. It was served with soft, toasted brioche, as expected. The decorative painted square of strawberry coulis was sufficiently generous to also contribute to the eating of the dish; a nice change from the current trend of painted smears which look more like dirty skid marks.
As we were sharing our starters, we also enjoyed a glass each of Sauternes, having asked enthusiastic sommelier Marcelo to make a choice of dessert wine for us. The 2002 Chateau Suduiraut he chose had the same honeyed flavours that I so loved in the 2001 and 2002 Yquems I enjoyed at Bob Bob Ricard last year. But at £28 a glass it was much pricier than BBR, as was the rest of the wine list.
When it came to choosing mains, we deliberately avoided the steaks. Forewarned is forearmed, after all.
I chose the breast of Loomswood duck, honey crusted drum stick, pear, parsnip puree, shaved chestnuts and fig sauce (£28). Jay Rayner recently described what I believe was the same dish as "a big plate of blah, an essay on the finer points of dull" but that doesn't equate to my plate at all. In fact, mine was good enough that I made a mental note to find out more about Loomswood Farm, turns out it's the home of Gressingham Foods, who created their breed by crossing Wild Mallard with Pekin. Personally, I found the meat not only tender but also flavoursome, with a pleasant hint of the gaminess of wild duck. I've been to many restaurants where the texture of their duck is wonderful but the flavour rather lacking. The drum stick was less successful than the breast meat and I couldn't pick up any honey sweetness at all. The pears and figs provided some pleasant sweetness. About the slivers of chestnut I'll concede Rayner's "blah" as they added nothing at all. The meaty fig gravy was excellent.
Having never had partridge before, Matt opted for the whole roast Suffolk partridge, crispy bread sauce, black pudding, Savoy cabbage, grape jus (£29). The partridge was very nicely cooked. The black pudding was lovely – rich and strong and solid – yet, to my surprise, didn't overwhelm the partridge. I rather liked the soft croquette with bread sauce inside, though we weren't sure what to expect from the menu description. And the vegetables and gravy were excellent.
Eschewing the iPad wine list, Matt turned to Marcelo again. His recommendation of a glass of Louis Latour Domaine Latour Aloxe-Corton Cote de Beaune 2007 was a great match for the partridge, both wine and poultry holding their own against each other.
On the side we ordered roast potatoes with rosemary and garlic (which, in Matt's words were "fucking awesome") and sautéed spinach with shallots, which was decent.
On to desserts…
The menu advised me to allow 15 minutes for my apple crumble soufflé, apple and custard sauce (£8.50), which gave plenty of time to relax between courses. On arrival, Ivan punctured the neatly flat surface and poured in a little of the apple sauce followed by the custard. The soufflé was delicious, with a strong apple flavour, though no obvious crumble flavour or texture. This was a simple dish, certainly in the eating if not the cooking.
Matt's macerated oranges, vanilla bean ice cream, praline sauce, honeycomb (£8.50) was definitely the winning dessert. It was beautifully presented. The combination of tastes and textures worked very well together. The flavours really sang out! I particularly loved the praline sauce which is not something I've encountered before, but would like to enjoy again.
Full enough to fancy an afternoon nap, instead we ordered coffee and tea, which were served with a tray of beautiful chocolates.
My Moroccan-style mint tea (black tea and fresh leaves combined) was an ideal digestif. Matt, a real coffee connoisseur, judged his espresso extremely good indeed, with very good flavour and a perfect crema.
I'm quite fussy about my chocolate. I can honestly say, hand on heart, these were some of the most delicious chocolates I've enjoyed, and certainly the best I've ever been served in any restaurant, in my memory!
The shells were so thin, I'm surprised they didn't break open to the touch and the fillings were silky smooth, and packed a fantastically fresh flavour punch. Inside the white chocolate shell was a passion fruit centre. The dark chocolate contained a very good salted caramel. And my favourite was the sugared milk chocolate shell with its banana and rum deliciousness.
I was keen to know whether these delights were made in house or bought in; the restaurant manager (also called Paolo) explained that they get the empty shells in from a chocolatier and fill them in house through tiny holes in each sphere.
After the chocolates, Ivan wheeled over the brandy trolley but we'd reached our limit and declined.
All in all we had a very pleasant meal, and it made a nice change to be looked after by professionally trained staff, offering an old-school style of service with a modern friendly face.
My problem is that, even for such a nice experience (and we clearly fared better than others who've recently reviewed the place), I really can't justify the prices. Our bill, with just 3 glasses of wine between us, came to a whopping £240 before service (which is added to the bill at 12.5%). At £135 per person, this is double what I think would be reasonable, given the stiff competition from hundreds of fantastic restaurants across the capital.
The Rib Room is aimed squarely at locals and hotel guests who are wealthy enough not to bat an eyelid at the prices, and probably sign the bill without even looking at it.
But my current bank balance is more in line with Lucky Chip than The Rib Room and I know there are many places I can find fantastic food at a fraction of the price.
Regular readers will notice how gorgeous all the photographs are. That's because they were taken by my talented friend, Matt Gibson. Thanks, Matt!
Kavey Eats dined as a guest of The Rib Room.