Racine

Impromptu lunches can sometimes be the best. My first visit to Racine was just that. A weekday excursion to see the Grace Kelly exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum definitely required a lunch to match, and Racine certainly did just that.  

So on my second visit I was armed and camera ready. You enter through the glass doors to peak behind the curtains into a buzzy French brasserie style dining room. The sort of place you can imagine eating and drinking with friends over a long lunch. Chef, Henry Harris, has taken inspiration from the brasseries of Paris to bring solid bourgeois style French cooking to London.

Diver caught scallops with celeriac puree and bacon, sounds good huh. When the dish was first sat in front of me I thought someone had come to blows with the scallop trying to prise it out of the shell (yes don’t laugh). Then on closer inspection I realised the scallops were huge and were actually divided (there is another piece on the other side, you can’t see in my snap). Big fat juicy scallops beautifully caramelised so that they were seared on the outside and only just cooked in the centre. The celeriac puree wasn’t completely smooth but I can forgive that because there is a curly piece of bacon on the top. This was a manly starter.

There is quite alot to choose from on the menu, à la carte, specials, or set lunch. If you like good steak, Racine uses O’Shea’s of Knightsbridge, which supplies excellent 37 day hung, grass fed beef. I chose the partridge from the seasonal menu. I ‘ve had it, at other establishments, where it was so rare I thought they just cut it off the bird straight onto the plate. Some may say that is perfectly acceptable, but it’s not the way I like it. Racine cooks it just the way I like it. So the breast actually reaches the pan but is still gorgeously tender and pink to the bone. Served on a bed of cabbage with wild mushrooms, roasted shallots, delicious.

The staff are ever so friendly and very helpful when choosing wine to match. I always need help, and anyway I figure they are the experts, well more than I am. They have never  failed me.

I remember the lemon posset I devoured on my first visit, divine. Feeling quite full at this point I went for the lemon sorbet with vodka for dessert. I excpected one possibly two small scoops so I was a bit shocked when this mountain arrived. I have noticed sorbet with vodka shots seem to be a common theme of late, not that I’m complaining.

Racine seems to be a place of consistency. Excellent well presented food, great lunch deals in a very pleasant dining room.

So feeling the comfort of a lovely meal and the carefree attitude of a few glasses of wine, I set off to Harvey Nichols for some light afternoon shopping……

The Harwood Arms

Finally, after all the hype had died down, I was reminded that I had been trying to get a table at The Harwood Arms. Ms L and I had tried so many times, but finally managed to get a table for a Sunday night.It was very quite when Ms L and I arrived at 730pm, it didn’t last long. Refurbished in September 2008, the pubs interior is of simple decor, mismatched chairs and coarse linen napkins tied with raffia. I liked it.  Although we were the only the second seated table, the other table having already ordered, we seemed to wait quite a while to be served. I know you need to give people a chance to peruse a menu but I’m impatient once I have decided. I was also ravenous after being out late the night before. Their absolutely delicious soda bread kept me at bay.A lovely bottle of red was recommended to us and we were settling into Sunday night. A soft French Pinot Noir, was a good overall choice for the dishes we had chosen.I chose the Kennet River Crayfish and saffron soup with crayfish cocktail toast from the specials board. Sounded good to me, but it was a disappointment.

On first sight, it looked good and I liked the presentation on the rustic timber board. The soup was lovely but the crayfish cocktail toast tasted like bad coleslaw. It spoilt the whole dish for me.

Ms L chose the Crisp brawn with tarragon mustard and broad beans stewed with smoked bacon and gem lettuce. The colours of the crispy fried brawn against the bright green of the tarragon mustard and broad bean stew, brought comfort to my eyes. Judging from the noises coming from the other side of the table it was good… nom, nom, nom. Crisp brawn, fantastic.

The main, whole butterflied and stuffed mackerel with a sour dough crust, Isle of Wight tomatoes, wild rocket and horseradish, was also a bit disappointing. The fish was well cooked but the sough dough crust didn’t bring anything to the dish and the stuffing….what stuffing???A few herbs maybe, for £14.50.

Ms L chose off the specials board, the grilled steak of Bershire Roe deer and Douglas Fir sausage. A dish of tender meat she enjoyed but it was served on a timber board with a dinner plate for you to transfer the dish onto, so that you could manage to eat it without it all falling off the board. A smallish portion for £16.75, I thought.

We both chose the peaches poached in lemon verbena syrup with raspberry ripple ice cream for a light dessert. The peaches were beautifully cooked, and softly scented by the lemon verbena. Raspberry ripple ice cream, what’s not to like. It was a lovely end to the meal.

If I didn’t know this place had rave reviews and had recently been the first pub in London to be awarded a Michelin star, I would have thought it was pretty good pub grub. Unfortuntately I did come knowing all this, so I expected something worthy of  all the praise. It’s great that they source alot of produce from small British suppliers, but that’s not unique anymore. I actually think it’s expected now, more and more, especially if they have been granted a star.

It was good, I’m glad I went, and even though I live relatively close, I think I will stick to my local pub which serves good reasonably priced food. I can walk in and always find a table. It’s still a pub for the locals.

Wright Brothers – Borough Market

I was a local in London Bridge for many years and Borough Market was like my local ‘supermarket’. I remember it before the tourist boom, when a leisurely Saturday strolling around the market was a pleasure. It wasn’t uncommon to see a few celebs (Jamie Oliver and the like) who would never be able to step foot in the place now without being mobbed.

One of the more recent restaurants which border the market is the Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House. I had walked past a few times on the weekends and looked at the place heaving.  I gave up trying to get a table.  Lately I have been lucky to have a few mid-week lunch times free.The focus of the restaurant is seafood. And lots of it! They source fish and shellfish from sustainable stocks and as much as they can from small day boats in Cornwall. They also have a oyster farm on the Helford River in Cornwall.

The atmosphere is relaxed with wooden tables and a long bar. The menu is displayed on the blackboard in the middle of the room with specials above the chefs stoves. The choice is not easy and their portion sizes generous. This is where I usually sit, happily tucking into some oysters while watching the shucking going on.

As you sit down a plate of bread appears. Now don’t think you can push this to the side in favour of more seafood. The treacle soda bread is so delicious, I always ask for more. They have quite a large wine list with some great matches and interesting beers as well.

Then of course the oysters. They do a lovely mixed platter, great if you want a variety and great if your still discovering which oyster is your favourite.  Sorry about the missing oysters, I tucked in before I even thought about a photo. I first liked Fine de Claires then I tried the Carlingford Lough and they were my favourites, then I tried Maldon oysters and at the moment they are my favourtie. Natural, freshly shucked with a squeeze of lemon and the classic mignonette sauce, nothing beats it for me. They do them all sorts of other ways, including deep fried, if that’s your thing.

Feeling brave I decided to give whelks another try, yeah no they are still not for me. Empaling their slimy body and coaxing them out of their shell, with a sort of rubber-like texture, even with the rich mayonnaise, I couldn’t do it.

Their moules marinière are soft and meaty too. This place is all about the food, no airs or graces required just get into it it fingers and all.

If you like razor clams, Wright Bros do a delicious rustic razor clams with chorizo and chickpeas. 

I cannot resist a plate of tender fried squid. Crispy perfectly cooked little tender bites.I love the relaxed style of cooking whilst still respecting the food of the sea, not complicating the flavours but relying on good produce to be the focus of the plate. The dishes are reasonably priced, the staff friendly with a buzzy atmosphere. This place is always busy and rightly so. They are opening a new restaurant in Soho early November. I’m sure it will be just as popular.

Malmaison – London

“You need someone to come to lunch with you?”, “Malmaison??? OK why not”. Little did I know what was in store for me…Malmaison is in Charterhouse Square, a lovely square tucked behind Barbican tube station.  Home to the London Medical Deanery and one time Monastery, hospital and school.

Thank goodness I was quite hungry when I arrived because once the food started coming, it didn’t seem to stop.

The Winesleuth and I were booked into ‘The Butcher’s Block’, a private room dedicated to the butchers of Smithfields. They carve up ribs and steaks at the table to share, sounds like fun.  It was a bit dark for my little happy snapper, so we opted for a table in the main dining area.

The entreé was a twist on a classic combination of crab and avocado. The avocado was very lightly crumbed but remained fresh and just ripened inside. The Dorset crab was well dressed with out drowning it. The chilli and citrus salsa left was dressed around the plate so you can have it with a bit of a kick, or not. I loved it, it was gone in a flash.

Luckily my lunch companion was there to check out the wines. She is pretty clued up and being familiar with Bibendum wines, had spotted that they supply Malmaison, before we had even sat down.  Our wine flight was chosen by Stuart, the new Sommelier at Malmaison London. He did very well too, choosing a Chapel Down Bacchus for my crab entree and a Côtes du Rhône and Australian Shiraz, for my main choice. I’m not going to pretend I know much about wines. If you want to know what The Winesleuth thought you can visit her post here.

The chef, John Woodward,  had made a crab bisque and wanted to give us a little try.

Made with crab shells, brandy and pastis, this little soup was packed with flavour. I couldn’t of had a whole bowl, but a little cup was the perfect amuse bouche.

The special for the day was côte du boeuf with béarnaise sauce, feeling like I had the appetite of an Alaskan lumberjack I couldn’t pass it up, neither could the Winesleuth.

Wooh! I didn’t expect it to be that big! Perfectly cooked medium but still pink, it was soft, tender and moist Donald Russell steak. I’ve never had meat from Donald Russell before and it was mighty good. The béarnaise was a little thicker than I would have liked, but now I’m just getting picky. The sides were great as well, great fries, mushrooms, salad leaves and the most delicious sweetcorn and chilli pancake.

I had barely made a dint in the steak and I was full. I guess the lumberjack feeling was a bit exaggerated. Cheeky as I am, I asked for it to be wrapped up to take home. They didn’t seem to mind, I hope they didn’t, but they would have only thrown it out and I got 2 lunches out of it! It was just as tasty then too.

After all that the Winesleuth wanted to try the ports and when the cheese trolley was unveiled to us there was no point trying to fight it.  A good selection of English and French cheeses from La Cave were equally matched by the port.

Dessert was a smooth crème brûlée. A crisp caramelised top with a creamy vanilla brûlée. I have to say I was starting to feel like a small whale at this point.

Malmaison are a small group of lovely hotels across the UK. They don’t come to mind as a place I would choose for lunch. I never expected the food to be quite so good and I never expected them to have great suppliers such as Donald Russell, La Cave and Bibendum. They have a few private rooms off the main restaurant which would be great for small Christmas parties, lunch meetings or small events. The interior was a bit dark for my liking, with alot of black and grey but the food made up for that and I soon forgot about it.

I love to have a peak at the rooms whenever I eat at hotels. Maybe it’s the urge to use the bed and have a nap after eating that spurs me on, although this time I wanted to soak in that tub!

 

Ms Macaroon dined as guests of Malmaison London.

STREET KITCHEN – supporting UK Growers and Producers

Monday morning in London and there is another tube strike. I’m one of the lucky ones who didn’t have to try and fight my way through the crowded buses to work but I did need to get to the Street Kitchen in Covent Garden.  I wasn’t going to let TFL stop me, so I started to walk and let’s face it, I could do with the exercise.Covent Garden was home to a large food market until 1964 when it was moved to Vauxhall as the New Covent Garden Market. It was nice to see the van start the journey in a place that was once a great British market.

The two chefs behind the Street Kitchen, Jun Tanaka (head chef at Pearl) and Mark Jankel are very passionate about UK produce.  During London Restaurant Festival the two guys decided they would come out of the kitchens and get amongst the people of London. They have certainly done their research too. They have gone to alot of effort to serve ONLY food grown in the UK. Their menu is governed by what is available from the growers and may change accordingly. They haven’t even used any pepper because they couldn’t source it from a UK grower. How that’s for lunch! Hot smoked salmon with beetroot, crushed potato and horseradish. It’s not cheap at £6.50 but it was a pretty large portion of Loch Duart salmon, and it certainly delivered on taste. You know I would rather spend more and know I’m going to eat quality food, supporting British growers than spend less and eat tasteless imported food with a huge carbon footprint.That brings me to the packaging. Sourced from a British company but made in Asia. Mark Jankel was telling us how he had to choose between plastic recyclable containers or biodegradable ones, taking into account the carbon footprint for recycling and manufacturing. He chose biodegradable. This is all part of the journey he is taking with The Food Initiative, through which he will open a restaurant early next year with the same ethos.Dessert was a delicious vanilla cheesecake with a compote of blueberries. The berries were delicious!

I’m really behind these guys who could sit comfortably behind a restaurant kitchen but they are passionate about UK food and want to spread the word!

Street Kitchen is open for the London Restaurant Festival (4th-18th October). Covent Garden from 4th-10th October and finishing in Spitalfields, 15th-18th October.

Ms Macaroon was invited as a guest of Street Kitchen and all photos in this post were taken with my Motorola Milestone XT720.