Upon his return from a vacation in Spain, JR and I met up for drinks and food at Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar. This was my first exposure to the Blue Ribbon chain (I know, I know), so I was excited, especially based on the menu I found on Blue Ribbon's website.
Overall, it was a good, if somewhat bizarre and definitely expensive experience. The main seating area on the top floor of the restaurant is small and bustling; JR and I sat at the bar for about 20 minutes before scoring a seat. I couldn't decide whether the bartender was friendly and laid-back or mocking; we'll go with friendly and laid-back, since we did get our glasses of wine (Cabernet for JR; Ribeiro Blanco for me) promptly. Curious note: the glassware at Blue Ribbon, purportedly sort of a wine bar, is terrible. C'mon, people, get some nice big glasses! Regardless, my Ribeiro Blanco was really crisp and refreshing; another win for the Wine Century Club.
We did ultimately land a table. Our neighbors at the two-top jammed right next to us were absolute characters.... more to come on that. Almost immediately, a huge bread basket landed on our table, including enormous slices of white bread, some thick, sweet almond and raisin bread, and some multigrain bread, along with some butter. We were handed menus, which, it's definitely worth noting, in no way resembled the menus posted on their website. Both our waiter and the solicitous and friendly maitre d checked in with us, and we placed our order.
It was a while before the food arrived, but we were in no hurry. JR ordered the goat cheese salad and a side of asparagus. The goat cheese salad looked good but got mixed reviews; under the goat cheese toasts were some sun-dried tomatoes and some onions, which looked promising but lacked a punch of flavor. JR also wished for some sort of extra flavor on the goat cheese-- some more herbs, spices, or even honey would have been welcome.
The asparagus earned raves, though-- plump, well-cooked, and dusted with a sprinkling of large-crystal salt.
My choice was the mixed olives. This was a solid crock of olives of various sizes, complemented (?) by huge bay leaves and cross-sections of a fennel bulb. Navigating around the clumsy garnishes, I very much enjoyed the olives, which were plump and flavorful and intensely salty. There were lots of olives for one person.
Once we were finished, the staff let us linger for as long as we wanted, and we chatted for a while before requesting the check. Meanwhile, tables around us asked for dessert-- and readers, if you ever have the ability to visit Blue Ribbon, please don't miss dessert. I saw one plate of insanely decadent profiteroles that had enough ice cream, pastry, and chocolate sauce on it for about 3 people (or one dessert lover). Also, don't miss a visit to the bathrooms, which will take you through the incredibly quaint downstairs area, with its warrens of private dining nooks and--oh! hello!-- the bread bakery, fully operational with busy bakers when I passed it that evening.
Our check was taken care of quickly, while the hilarious set of man-friends next to us took approximately 20 minutes, two people, and one iPhone to figure out how to split their check. At one point, the relatively more innocent of the two replied to the other, who had been struggling with the calculator app on his iPhone for a good quarter of an hour by then, "Don't worry, nobody else saw!" Correction, my friend, we saw, and we enjoyed.
Overall, Blue Ribbon is definitely an indulgence-- the prices are high, and while the portions are ample, it's all just a little bit much for an everyday restaurant. But it's a pleasant place to be, and if given the opportunity, I'd return.
Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar
34 Downing Street, at Bedford