The heat is quite intense, the steam from the fryers is rising and the queue at the door is lengthening. I am sitting on a tall stool at the front bar, overlooking the chef’s kitchen in Made by Bob, Cirencester’s best café, restaurant and delicatessen. I am lucky to get a seat. It may only be a Tuesday lunchtime but it looks like a hungry Saturday throng has assembled, some greeting one another, others waving across the floor for the already busy waitresses to bring more drinks.
The chef in front of us is preparing the starters. He has serried rows of ready ingredients in his mise en place boxes: chopped tomatoes, onions, lemons, rucola, chillies, figs, watercress and countless dressings.
On the other side of the kitchen Captain Bob Parkinson is multi-tasking with enviable precision: with one hand he places a ribeye steak on the sizzling hot grill, and with a turn of his shoulder and a pivot on his heel he is subsequently shaking a pan to finish off the linguine puttanesca.
There is no shouting. He calmly tells the sous chefs the orders that are coming in, and the order tickets are attached above the workbenches, aligned left to right.
The clientele is varied. The Sloane Ranger brigade are dressed in their boho-chic, blue blazer, Gucci brogue finery, the territorial hauteur of their glances indicating that this is their watering and feeding hole, a phalanx of It bags delineating their seating encampment. But there are far less conspicuous people too: mothers, children, men in suits, shop workers and tourists.
The compelling call of Made by Bob is the most basic and fundamental of culinary straplines: excellent provenance served at reasonable prices. The team here knows how to source very, very well, and then they do those simple artisanal flavours simple justice.
My selection of breads with olives and salsa verde are really delicious: warm, fruity, salty and moist, the whole combination together is unguent, fragrant and comforting.
Tea towels on shoulders and eyes on the stoves, the five male chefs are heads down, brows sweating, fingers poised. A pile of dressed salad leaves is placed on a white plate, with a glass tumbler full of coral pink prawns and wobbly yellow mayonnaise. Paper thin layers of raw tuna are decorated with ruby red slithers of chilli and garlic and ginger soy dressing squeezed on top with rhythmic spirals. The tempo is relentless. No sooner is one plate dressed to impressed it is whisked away and carried on high to a waiting customer, with other waiting diners looking on, yearningly, patiently, with famished tautness. The waitresses fly from one end of the room to the other: wine trays, ice, clinking glasses, white napkins, they are fleet of foot and sound of limb.
My red pepper tart is truly magnificent: sitting on a buttery, crisp pastry is a royal red, agrodolce mousse filling, perfectly foiled by a garlic green pesto. All around me are hanging the high-end dining chefs’ batterie de cuisine weapons of choice. Bob used to work alongside Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum, in London, and he has chosen wonderful accessories and work tools to produce food of the highest calibre. Bright copper pans, a pillar-box red charcuterie slicing machine, a battalion stainless steel work station and dark shop fittings look straight out of a modern Milanese café setting, in a 1950’s Carlo Ponti film.
The delicatessen section of the business offers fine cheeses, salami, prosciutti, cakes, wines, pasta, sauces, crackers, preserves and ready meals. It is a one-stop-dinner-party-shop, and you would have to be a Cistercian monk to walk past in resistance.
My white peach bavarois with candied almonds is so good, I make written notes that deconstruct its composition so that I can copy it at home. The trembling creamy pannacotta underbelly is drizzled with a very soft, sweet peach compote, and all around it are the crunchy shrapnel of toasted almond slices, caramelised to within a few seconds of brownness. The espresso is the best in town.
I try to get a photo of Bob but he is reluctant. “I am all hot, all sweaty!” he cries, but I insist. “No, you are blond, and young and handsome!” I go “click” with my camera. More people are lining up to be fed, to shop, to order private catering, to sit at the bar where I was just sitting, to watch the making of their lunch, the structuring of the menu, the layering of the ingredients. All made by team Bob: in the steamy frenzy of service, a still, small voice of calm still calling out the new orders.
Made by Bob website: www.foodmadebybob.com
E-mail Bob Parkinson: www.foodmadebybob.com
Address: Unit 6, The Corn Hall, 26 Market Place, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL78 2NY.
Telephone: 01285 641 818