'A tempting array of revamped classics, with a predictable focus on meat'

ROBA bar and restaurant

Mon–Sat 7am–10.30pm, Sun 7.30am–10.30pm

The blurb

ROBA is named after its robata grill; aiming to be a focal destination of the growing Paddington food scene, the menu combines Head Chef Andrea Secchi’s Italian heritage, experience in Michelin-starred kitchens (including Marcus Wareing at The Berkley) and passion for modern British cooking to create a tempting array of revamped classics, with a predictable focus on meat.

Stylish and chic interiors are designed by Tibbat’s Abel, the award-winning interior designers behind the iconic Buddha Bar in Knightsbridge, and ‘you can expect contemporary interiors with custom-designed features including signature copper elements throughout the whole space.’

The style

Well, I have to admit when we arrived (having finally found it—being in a hotel, it doesn’t have the obvious street signage to helpfully signal you’ve arrived) I was less than overwhelmed by the stylish interiors.

This isn’t wholly fair, as actually the interiors of ROBA itself are pretty appealing and fun; glowing blue bubble shapes on the ceiling above some tables and a neon lighting squiggle above the bar, Moroccan-type carved wooden panels on some walls, a huge metallic pillar. It has fun feature elements, but the tables and chairs, though comfy, feel unavoidably hotel-lobby or airport-restaurant-esque.

The designers are known for places such as Buddha Bar, and that’s telling: with dimmer lighting, moving around more and focusing on drinking the whole design might work better—the stand-out focal features drawing your attention for cooing and brief attention. Here they almost look out of place when the rest of it is so…bland. It doesn’t help too that we entered via the hotel lobby, which instantly gave us that hotel feeling before we even got into ROBA.

The crowd

At the start of the night we went: non-existent! We were the first to arrive for either food or drink that evening, and though it soon drew more people in—some work groups eating, some just drinking, and a few couples and sets of girlfriends chatting after a day shopping—it never became even half full (in the overall restaurant at least. The bar area was at points pretty busy). This is understandable at a new opening in a hotel on a weekday night, and the toned-down buzz and privacy was actually pretty refreshing.

The food

Despite arriving before there were any other guests to distract from us, and hovering by the bar waiting for the barman’s attention for quite some time, we were still not approached or asked if we wanted to be seated. In fact it was as though we were completely invisible—we even went and asked at the hotel reception if we were meant to check in there to get our table! At last a smiley waitress emerged from the bowels of the hotel and quickly had us sitting down and champagne in hand; possibly teething problems or beginning-of-the-night lack of staff.

However, start ordering and all is forgiven. The food is ROBA is… A surprise. It is as creatively conceived and plated as at some West End hotspot du jour, and the unexpectedness of this in the more out-of-the-way surroundings just adds to the pleasant surprise.

The heritage carrots came highly recommended and were as delicious as promised, a celebration of the vegetable artfully poised on the plate; meanwhile the burrata was also excellent—a pretty standard dish, yes, but here with the added tanginess to cut through the fat of butternut squash.

Mains-wise, my dining partner’s corn-fed chicken was perfectly moist and tender, with a fabulous aioli coleslaw alongside. My confit duck legs—a favourite of mine—in orange sauce were also beautifully rich and unctuous, though I was less a fan of the accompanying cabbage.

We finished with some puddings, and can especially recommend the dark chocolate cylinder with salted caramel mousse. Decadent yet light all at once!

The drink

Having had that small service glitch when we arrived, the staff made up for it over the rest of the meal. A friendly waitress was always on hand to suggest, explain, or refill, and the senior staff member—who had been at the bar earlier—was delightful conversation as he brought cocktails and suggested wines.

The drinks were chosen with the same care as the menu; not a huge wine list, it nevertheless does the job well. I was particularly taken with the Chenin Blanc, and my friend the Pinot Noir.

In a nutshell

There are a few wrinkles to iron out in terms of greeting and allocating staff coverage, but it was early days still when we visited and the entry point to ROBA is a little awkward, which doesn’t help make things smoother. The service, once it arrives, is excellent, and the food absolutely worth the short walk from Paddington or one of the other nearby stations.

It might not be a destination restaurant—not somewhere I personally would go for a special occasion—but it is definitely somewhere I would like to return, if just to try some of their robata red meat! A lingering catch-up with an old friend, drinks or a quick meal on our way out of work with colleagues, an off-the-beaten-path location for a secret tryst; ROBA would be perfect for all of these and many more besides, and I will certainly be bearing it in mind when I am in the area.

ROBA, 34 Norfolk Pl, London, W2; 020 7262 3123; www.robarestaurant.co.uk

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