16 Brewer Street, Soho, W1. www.randallandaubin.com
Where once meat ruled, fish came to the fore. After twenty years of staring in the window, finally Nick eats at Randall & Aubin
There was once a real butcher in Soho and it was so traditional that you didn’t pay the man who served you the meat, his chubby hands had to remain unsullied by dirty coins, instead you paid a lady in a wooden box in the centre of the shop.
I know this because in the early 1990s I bought my meat there. Then, suddenly, the butchers went under and in its place, with the decor almost unchanged, came Randall & Aubin.
A relatively lowly paid, wet behind the ears, copywriter I’d look in and be so very envious of the folk in there. The whole Parisian vibe was going on; the seafood stacked in the window, the smiling and boisterous people swilling chilled white wine and slurping oysters. It looked like heaven, but I could only peer through the pearly gates.
Fast forward to 2020 and I’m at last going through the door. With so many restaurants in London I’d kind of forgotten about Randall & Aubin but this lunchtime I’m going to fulfil my fantasy.
It works immediately: the gust of warm garlicky air that comes out as we walk in, the busy counter staff, the marble tables and the noisy, happy diners. As we wait for a few minutes to get a table, we can take it all in.
We score a seat in the window so we can look out at Soho life, so much better than looking at each other. Within moments the actor Bill Nighy walks past. I tend to avoid any film he’s in as I know it will be awful, but it’s cheering to see a’face’ go by.
Back at the menu, rather self-consciously styled in a kind of fin de siÃƒÂ¨cle font, it’s hard to choose. Plenty of attractive brasserie-style options, and not just fish and shellfish.
Think (as they say) massive Assiette de fruits de mer, Garlic roasted large Mediterranean prawns, Vitello tonnato, R&A crab burger with remoulade and pommes frites, R&A lobster Po Boy with coleslaw and frites, Roast Suffolk lamb steak or Half corn-fed Spago chicken.
We assumed it was half a chicken by the way, and not a chicken fed on 50% corn
Looking back at the specials board we both decide it looks good and will save us time deciding. Crisp white linen on the marble top is simple and attractive, little things do make a difference.
As does the bread- crunchy crusted sourdough with good old butter and some kind of whipped confection with, I think, anchovy added.
We make short work of that and are beginning inroads into the Pecorino wine when the starters arrive.
A bourride is a bit like a bouillabaisse, but thicker and flavoured heavily with garlic aioli. Sounds like heaven? Well it is.
This one is made with champagne and saffron and has generous quantities of shrimps and squid merrily splashing about in it, the latter still in their shells so it’s as well we have a finger bowl.
It’s good to the last drop, which I soak up with some more of that bread, kissed by the grill for a fine smokiness. It was a cracker of a bourride and I could eat it again right now.
Main course of breaded Cornish plaice with a potato and celeriac gratin, braised carrots and a beurre blanc is good, but not so great.
The beurre blanc is pretty much just melted butter and it has soggied up the plaice. I’m not getting any notes of vinegar or onion out of the sauce, which I really need to cut the richness.
There is no crispness to the coating because of all the butter, but the fish itself is fine. What I really do like is the gratin, which is excellent, and the carrots which have been’turned’ and have a wonderful texture from the braising, plus lots of thyme flavour.
Very old skool French cooking, the sort that malheureusement you won’t find easily in France anymore.
Of course, you can’t get more French than a crÃƒÂ¨me brulee. I love the things, so order one up for dessert. Someone in the kitchen has decided the brulee bit should be emphasised, so it comes to the table with flames leaping off of it.
A very Instagram video moment, so my phone immediately crashes and then refuses to do anything but take pictures. Voila les resultats.
It’s lovely, the crÃƒÂ¨me perfectly unctuous and rich, the glaze crisp and slightly sticky which is bad news for my teeth, but then most things are these days.
M has the cheese selection, all nicely ripe, and I eat his leftovers after my dessert, in a Brexitish two fingers to the French way of doing things.
We roll out the door at a respectable gone 3.pm, as civilised people always used to before the tyranny of HR struck.A few points were lost with the plaice, but the place itself didn’t disappoint.
Randall & Aubin had a lot to live up to, my anticipation setting the bar perhaps unfairly high, but I’d go back in a flash.
Or probably next month. With Soho losing so much that made it special, it’s good that some spots still hit the spot.