The first time I went to the Bar Boulud, I left incandescent with rage. It
wasn’t the gutless, anodyne charcuterie that got my goat, or the ‘Grand Aioli’
with no discernible trace of garlic, or the coq au vin which gave the impression that the chicken, and the liquid in which it was served, were not
simply strangers to one another, but of having about as much in common as I
do with, well, Victoria Beckham. No, it was the performance of the sommelier
that stirred up my normally placid and easy-going temperament.
Frobisher and I had put one bottle of fine Roc d’Anglade to rest, and I
called for a second. Excessive, you may think, but I had not seen Frobisher
for some time, and we had a lot to say to one another. The sommelier poured
me a glass of the second bottle. I sniffed and sipped.
‘I’m very sorry,” I said. “This is corked.’
‘I thought it was,’ he said. I goggled him, but I was so taken
aback by his cheek that I failed completely to ask him why, if that is what he
thought, he had served it to us.
‘Bring me another,’ I said. The second bottle was corked, too, and I sent
that away, and called for a bottle of Minervois, which was exemplary.
Fobisher and I drank it in peace.
When I called for the bill, Frobisher, diligent fellow that he is, noticed
that we had been charged for two bottles of Roc d’Anglade as well as the
Minervois, ie we had been charged for one of the bottles which I had sent
back. The errant bottle was removed from the bill, with apologies, but hence
my rage and indignation. I had the strong feeling that, with the first
bottle, the sommelier thought that we were know-nothing chaps, and he
could get away with serving up duff wine. With the second, I think he
thought we were so pissed we wouldn’t notice. He reckoned without the
This happened within a week or so of the Bar Boulud opening to a fanfare of almost
universal praise. I did not write about my experiences at the time, because I
did not have a blog in which to write it. Anyway, being a fair-minded
fellow, I thought that I would go back and give the Bar Boulud, or Blah
Boulud as Frobisher likes to call it, a second crack.
And so it was one Tuesday lunchtime that I joined my three wonderful lady
cousins, Sarah, Mary and Emma for a joyful reunion. And it was joyful, but
that was thanks to their cheerful dispositions and good humour rather than
the delights of the Bar Boulud.
There was no repeat of the horrors of the first visit. Everything functioned
perfectly. And that’s what the Bar Boulud does. It functions. It is functional
in every way. The room is functional; chic functional, but functional
nevertheless. The service is functional; brisk, professional, smiling. But I
couldn’t help getting the feeling that their function was to get us in and
out as smoothly and quickly as possible. And the food, well, that really was
Don’t get me wrong. It’s ok. You can pay more and eat worse. But a second
crack at the charcuterie did not endear it to me any more. It had all been
smoothed down, ironed out, polished up for metropolitan tastes. It lacked oomph and texture and porky resolution. It had plenty of style but precious little substance. It was the Mayhew of charcuterie, polite to the point of anonymity. Go and try the stuff you get at the Galvin Bistro De Luxe, Terroir, Brawn or even Les Deux Salons, and you’ll see what I mean.
After that, my saucisse de morteau with lentils was a benchmark for the ordinary, disappearing from my plate with a self-effacing lack of distinction. Even at £8.75, it should register a healthy mark up . Emma’s ‘Tunisienne’ – merguez by any
other name – with tabbouleh and chickpeas was another nugatory sausage dish. Mary pouted at her torte of sweetbreads. Sarah sang the praises of her hamburger, as many others have before. I’m sure it’s fine, but a decent hamburger is not enough to rescue
the reputation of the Bar Boulud as far as I am concerned. There were other
things too, some pommes frites and a brace of iles flottantes, respectable, ordinary, tedious.
What’s all the fuss about? The Bar Boulud is undistinguished, unexceptional, unremarkable. It defines middle-of-the-road, fair-to-middling, run-of-the-mill, boring, boring, boring. It sucks the joy out of life. Almost. It might do well in New York.
I would like to think that we have slightly greater expectations here. But
judging by the way in which bevies of customers were being processed, it
looks as if my expectations are in vain. The best that can be said is that I left depressed rather than enraged. On second thoughts, I’m not sure that this is an improvement.
Bar Boulud, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1
Tel:020 7201 3899).