Thursday, 30 July 2020

Randall & Aubin, Soho

I hesitate to call Randall & Aubin an 'institution' because I get the impression the word is too often rolled out to describe anywhere whose glory days are behind it but which survives through a combination of brand awareness and dewey-eyed nostalgia. But in these Troubled Times ((c) every press release for the last 4 months), well, maybe we need a few more institutions. For a long time, Kettner's in Soho was an institution, as in the pizzas were a bit rubbish but it was easy to find, but people loved it, and when it was revamped into a fancy member's club and the restaurant doubled its prices, well, a bit of the shine went. Let's face it, a lot of the shine went.

Randall & Aubin, though, has changed very little about the way they do things in the last 30 odd years, and why would they? Sure, the old pandemic has meant a bit of extra attention to social distancing, hand sanitiser on arrival, condiments and cutlery provided only as needed, and some lovely new tables outside, but all these things are to be expected anywhere these days. Where it matters - the food, the service, the atmosphere of this little Soho jewel box of a restaurant - R&A is as charming and rewarding as ever.

If you've ever been to Randall & Aubin then most likely you're already a fan and won't need any persuading to go back. But in case you're unaware, we're talking about a seafood bar in the Parisian pavement bistro vein - think huge trays of enticing crustacea on ice, rather uncomfortable high stool seating (much alleviated by the new outside tables) and smart staff dressed in black & white. There's a decently-priced wine list, a selection of the kind of seafood greatest hits that would keep every fruits de mer fan happy, and a couple of half-hearted meat options which I'm sure nobody ever orders. Everything, in other words, you'd hope to see at a place like this.

They have one final job to do, then, in order to match the promise of the setup, and that's to serve it all correctly, and happily they can do that and more. Here's a plate of native oysters, lean and robust, on a cute miniature ice tray presumably only ever used on those rare occasions they're asked to serve such a pathetic number of oysters. Look, I was just worried I wouldn't be able to try all the things I wanted to try, that's all.

I should point out that it was their idea to offer a little tin of caviar to go with the oysters, not mine, and I'm afraid if someone offers me caviar I consider it the height of inpoliteness not to accept. I'm glad I'm not sorry I did, either.

Dressed crab was fantastic - plenty of good, earthy brown meat to go with the white, and generally a very generous amount of both. I ate most of this with a little squeeze of lemon, then made the rest into a sandwich with the very nice house sourdough and salted butter.

Langoustine are the ultimate test of a seafood restaurant's prowess. I've paid a lot of money in very highly-regarded places for woody, pappy or mushy langoustine, a result of bad timing, pre-cooking, freezing or a combination of all three. And it's true that even here, a dedicated seafood restaurant in the center of London, I didn't consider success to be a given. Anyway, I needn't have worried. They were blindingly good - timed perfectly, with bouncy, sweet flesh and complimented very well by a garlic-parsley-butter dressing. Oh, and fries were great too, because langoustine and fries is definitely a thing. Or at least, definitely should be.

As with any seafood dinner - any good one, anyway - you should expect to pay a good amount for it. There's no such thing as a farmed langoustine, or a bargain-basement fresh oyster (or if there is, you definitely shouldn't be eating it) and the practicalities of getting these tasty little buggers out of the sea and onto your plate mean that there most likely never will be. But in the grand scheme of things, Randall & Aubin is pretty decent value - the giant blowout seafood platter is under £50 a head, and oysters work out at about £2.33 if you get a dozen - not quite the cheapest in town, but nowhere near the priciest.

So I left very happy indeed. And now that Randall & Aubin are back open and firing on all cylinders again, you could do a lot worse than make a booking yourself. Poised conveniently to make the most of a pedestrianised Soho as well as the slow return of the public to central London, I can think of very few better ways to celebrate the return of the New Normal as a seafood feast at a restaurant specialising in seafood feasts, and one so very accomplished at serving them. Langoustine, dressed crab, and oysters are back on the menu. Thank God for that.


I was invited to R&A aaaaall the way back in February, but thought it was a bit pointless posting about it until lockdown was lifted. I didn't see a bill, and in fact some of the items I ordered are no longer on the (seasonal) menu, but I imagine the above with a couple of glasses of wine would have cost about £70pp.

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