The Rib Room sounds like some feminist gathering place, which is an odd choice for The Lawyer to send a male lawyer, seeing as how our profession is so notoriously sexist.
Best for: big fat expense accounts
Worst for: skint vegetarians
Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge
Yes, yes, we all know that senior partners prattle on about how much women add to the profession, with them plugging away to develop a plan to help boost female partner numbers, whilst firing them all. So I went there with a female partner from a Magic Circle firm, before it was too late.
Top restaurants in posh hotels seem to be either cool (Heston) or arrived at through a tart’s boudoir (Alain Ducasse). The Rib Room falls most emphatically into the latter. I know it is the Christmas season, but do you really need this over abundance of expensive watches/shoes/bling lining the corridor leading to the restaurant, or the myriad dangly gilded baubles hanging from the ceiling? Come on; is it a hotel or a shopping mall in Dubai?
Once in the restaurant, however, the mood changes. The room is old school; a sunken bar surrounded by brown slate-lined walls and green leather banquets. It feels like the whole has been transported from a Manhattan men’s club. And it is all very masculine: no waitresses, only waiters; nothing prim and proper or soft here, the place is hard edged, screaming business deals; the only single people being businessmen, intent on stocking up on protein before ‘the big deal.’
The menu reveals a different side, however. That side being 1970’s Britain: prawn cocktail; yes. Steak and chips; oh yes. Black Forest Gateaux; yes, yes, oh yes. I kid you not. The menu could have come from a ‘70’s dinner party.
OK, if you are going to do irony, do it well. And they do. The prawn cocktail resists the temptation of being served in a wine glass, instead coming in an enormous glass bowl affair, bits of lettuce and endive poking out of big mound of prawns Marie Rose. The steak is aged (of course) and comes with a choice of a la mode sauces, including the most excellent bone marrow.
The Black Forest Gateaux is not billed as such, instead being cleverly disguised as a black forest “chocolate delice”. They are, however, fooling nobody: it had chocolate, whipped cream and kirsch soaked cherries. If that’s not a BFG, then nothing is.
Away from Abigail’s Party, the other dishes were perfectly pleasant: lamb sweetbreads came with a foam, just to show that we were in the 21st century and lamb chops were pinkish and tasted of lamb. Oh, and the wine list comes on an iPad (2 no less).
Now that is a first for me, and is genius: forget trying to leaf through a leather bound tome, sweating under the glare of the snotty nosed sommelier. The iPad allows you to slice and dice by grape, region and style, whilst giving you the chance to learn more about each wine by clicking through your preferences.
It might not make things any cheaper (and there are some nose-bleedingly high priced vinous offerings here), but it is a really fun way to make the often painful task of choosing a wine from a ridiculously long, complex list, a lot simpler and easier.
Service is friendly without being intrusive, managing to get the right balance between being there when required and not being then when not needed, with a warmth and genuine helpfulness that is just not there with too many London restaurants.
The Rib Room is never going to win awards for the excellence of the fare, but it is a fine enough place for an expense account dinner.
It took Andreas Vesalius in 1543 to point out that women didn’t have a spare rib, but the same number of bones pointing out of their thoracic vertebrae as men.
Maybe some time within the next 468 years senior partners of our biggest firms will work out that women have the same ability as their male counterparts. Who knows, by then the Rib Room may have morphed into a Manhattan women’s club instead.
Whatever that looks like.
Richard Eaton, partner, Bird & Bird