We got a great table in Racine – a spacious round expanse of tablecloth giving just enough space to studiously avoid touching knees. It was also right by the window - so good back lighting for the non botoxed amongst us, (though somewhat undone by the spotlights beating down on the Grand Canyon meandering across my forehead) and slightly separate from the rest of the leathered ranks of banquettes, trooping up the sides of the room. Just as well, as I would have hated to inflict speech night on the other diners. It was one of those evening whereby my companion soliloquised centre stage while and I sat in the wings providing prompts and occasional applause. I love him dearly but by the end of the meal we’d done his kids, his holidays, his career and his love life. I could do Mastermind with him as my specialist subject. All I did was smile in the strained, should I be wearing a name tag so you actually remember who I am, sort of way, that I have perfected at home with the Mister. Ah well - that’s entertainment - for everything else, you have food.
Racine is the new collaboration between chef Henry Harris, previously of Harvey Nicks Fifth floor and Hush, and Eric Garnier who began his career a few doors up on Brompton Road at Brasserie St Quentin, which coincidentally, has recently been bought back by its original owner Lord Rathscavan. M’lud took pity on St. Q’s shabbiness, restored it to its former glory and installed competent young chef Nana Yaw Nitri-Akuffo whose cooking is a lot more straightforward than the exoticism of his name suggests (his mum lives in W10). The set lunch is £11.50 and the all-day menu features things like fried gulls eggs, pheasant eggs and snails in a pastry dome.
Racine, on the other hand, is a much longed for firstborn with a great pedigree, that has sprung, fully formed, from the womb - sober, sophisticated and already reading the FT. With lots of dark wood and brown leather, Racine serves casual, gutsy regional French food at reasonable prices. Their set lunch costs £12.50 with starters on the a la carte ranging from £4.50 for cream of Jerusalem artichoke soup to a quirky warm, wobbly garlic and saffron mousse (happily, from the shy retiring non-Buffy school of garlic – no one died when I kissed them the next day) served with wild mushrooms coming in at £7.00.
The potted shrimps with Madeira and great hunks of pain Polaine was piquant and buttery, but portions dainty enough to reassure one’s hips. However, if the award for clever-dickery goes to the garlic mousse, then for range of flavour and texture the big prize must go to the pate de foie de volaille – chunky, stout, dotted with flecks of vivid green parsley, and wrapped in a thick layer of fat. Now when did you last hear of that being a good thing? Pity it doesn’t translate to people.
Main courses are even more wallet friendly. The most expensive grilled rib eye with béarnaise is £13. Lower down the price range the first of a pair of country classics - grilled lamb chops, pea, bacon and shallot salad with sauce paloise (‘beurre blanc with mint’) - bleats ‘eat me’ at £9.50, while the tete de veau, with sauce ravigote (‘vinaigrette with mustard, lots of onions and garlic’) at £9.00 – puts a whole new meaning into the phrase bite your head off bargain.
While Hamlet was rollicking along on whether to be or not to be fitted for a new suit he managed roast skate with a broad bean and caper relish, strangely reminiscent of pesto, while I had grilled velveteen rabbit. It was astonishingly good - the flesh so soft and yielding that it stroked the palate, coaxed along by in a light, creamy mustard sauce and topped with a couple of coiled curly rashers of smoked bacon.
Dessert – the absolute best ever diminutive pot au chocolat, properly dense with just a hint of sweetness and served with crŹme fraiche, and a phenomenally punchy liquorice ice cream – creamy, kiddie flavoured black jacks with a hint of caramel. It’s one of those tastes you can’t decide whether you love or hate, but in the mean time you’re spooning it into your mouth like it was the last thing between you and a month’s solitary confinement with a pack of Rivita. The taste pushed everything else aside, though the peach macaronnade and the strawberries in Beaujolais were both delightful – just not strong enough to withstand liquorice.
Okay, you’ve noticed – three starters, four puddings – a tad excessive even for me. Frailty – thy name is woman. I know – Shakespearean quotes for dummies but then I’m really more of a MacBeth kind of gal.