Bob Bob Cité, the long-awaited restaurant on the third floor of The Leadenhall Building (aka The Cheesegrater), resembles the love child of a rather grand casino and the Orient Express.
Strips of blue neon table numbers, like stock-market tickers, act as electronic cornicing between the mirror-encrusted, marquetry-clad walls and the ceilings beaming with two dozen chandeliers. There are ranks of über-luxe dining booths, each with a button exhorting patrons to “pressez pour le champagne”, recalling Alice in Wonderland’s “Drink Me” bottle. Bob Bob Cité is owner Leonid Shutov’s fairytale dining room, deliberately de trop and defiantly deluxe: bling in symmetry.
What to cook in such a space? Chef Eric Chavot, so French that one suspects soupe à l’oignon courses through his veins, has taken his much-cherished brasserie cuisine and – on the rock-star food scale – turned it up to 11. Jersey rock oysters are baked in a truffled hollandaise; macaroni cheese is perked up with lobster, while steak tartare and smoked salmon can be ordered “impérial” (with a mound of caviar on the side).
And to fine effect: Chavot is canny enough to know whether a luxury ingredient will marry well with a dish, or break it off on the first date. He handles with care: the oysters were silky and slithery, with the merest whisper of truffle, while the mac ’n’ cheese (cheeses, actually: four of them) played a soothing back fiddle to perfectly cooked lobster. And steak tartare is always a good test of a kitchen: Chavot’s version, delicately piquant and topped with a soft-boiled quail egg, was from the top drawer.
I have been known to complain that a pie not completely encased in pastry is just a stew with a lid. Chavot offers three pies – chicken, fish and vegetable, distinguishable by their thematically embossed crusts – and none has a full crust, but what lids, and what stews!
The chicken version is a take on poulet au vin jaune – one of The Gannet’s desert-island dishes – featuring excellent chicken and earthy morels in a lustrous velouté made with sauternes instead of vin jaune. The veggie version involves Jerusalem artichokes, champagne and truffles, while Le “Pie” du Poissonier (the menu is written in quirky Franglais: Le Green Beans, anyone?) is stuffed with smoked haddock, cod, salmon and mussels.
There are terrific desserts too: a featherlight île flottante, its soft meringue dusted with almond slivers, the custard concealing a nut-brown slick of salted caramel, and a boozy baba au rhum, with wafers of pineapple and vanilla-rich crème Chantilly for company.
After all that, a postprandial stroll might be in order. I recommend a tour of the fabulous wine cellars, and you can even walk into the kitchen unhindered: at the owner’s request, there are no doors in the restaurant. Nothing is shut off, but everything is Shutov.