"No chips or wine for us,” the woman sitting next to us said to the waitress, “We’ve got to be good.”
Jeez, how to inadvertently make your neighbours feel guilty about what they’re planning to order. I’m already halfway through my very effective Mexican Firing Squad cocktail (£8.95), which contains a lethal slosh of Patron Blanco tequila, lime, and probably 36 cubes worth of sugar in the form of raspberry syrup.
This restaurant, bar and hotel, the new incarnation of 17-year-old Rick’s, has the same owners in the Montpeliers Group but has re-opened after a £800k refurbishment. On my visit, everyone seemed to be nibbling on chicken salad (hold the candied bacon).
There were a lot of glamorous outfits too, blonde highlights and diamanté jewellery (or probably the real deal, this is next to George Street after all). And that was just the men – joking, though most of them were in pink shirts and there was plenty of cuff rolling and wrist waggling to make their watches flash. Perhaps the rabble name is ironic.
This made for a dress code fail for me, as my outfit was looking a bit Bert the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins. I just hadn’t anticipated such a chichi space, especially as I’d already perused the menu, which serves meaty food “inspired by the low and slow techniques of Neil Rankin”. Usually, that genre, as seen at chef Rankin’s London restaurants, would be teamed with gravy-coloured leather, chrome and many beards.
Here, it’s all turquoise, glass, colourful prints, marble and pot plants, like a branch of Anthropologie. Fresh and salady looking, though on the website, they describe this style as the oxymoronic sounding “rough-luxe”.
Who ARE you, Rabble?
Maybe we’d find out by psychoanalysing the starter of slow-cooked pig’s cheek (£6.50). Two soft-centred and fist-sized dollops of pork were covered in knobbly-looking cornflake-light coating, with a little pot of Bovril-esque jus on the side.
This option was decent, as was the salt-baked beetroot (£6.50), which is probably best avoided if you’ve got high blood pressure. It was so sodium rich I felt empathy for slugs and the popular method for dispatching them. My insides were fizzing. This was tempered by the soothing balm of creamy crowdie cheese dots, smudges of honey, a drizzle of sherry and a few light sails of pastry with a surface of pore-like bubbles.
Apart from the fact my main of 60 hour cooked gunpowder rubbed beef short rib (£17), chosen from the Robata Grill section of the menu, was barely tepid and 37 per cent fat, it was downy meat, with a Szechuan peppery rub on its blubbery lid, a pile of mash on the side and a pot of thin onion gravy. Fine, though I’d kind of like a bit more magic, especially when the meat has put in more time than my average working week.
Off the section that was daftly called From the Side, I’d also ordered green beans (£3.50) – still with bite and sloshing in a pool of paprika-infused melted butter. Nice, and yet more naughtiness.
When it came to the fillet of salmon (£14), apart from making it look like a DIY project gone horribly wrong, we’re not sure what being baked on a plank of cedar wood added to the dish. Anyway, the fish was soft and tasted decent enough, topped with a fan of creamy red pepper and oregano sauce and with a side of chorizo-riddled crushed potato that looked rather revoltingly sloppy.
The puddings ain’t bad. My peanut butter and dark chocolate tart (£5.50) had a slick and dark cocoa topping and a layer of smooth peanut purée on top of a biscuit base, with a blob of simple milk ice-cream on the side. While, the beige ball of steamed pudding (£5.50) was suitably comforting yet light, with a jug of some good custard to slop over the top.
Still, another strangely stodgy dish that, along with the focus on American style slow-cooking and my bad outfit, doesn’t seem quite the right fit. Not quite supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. n