A Sunday Lunch at Randall & Aubin:
I must have visited Randall & Aubin when it first opened. I can remember meeting a friend fresh off a flight from Australia and wandering around Soho looking for somewhere to eat. He was far more au-fait with the places to go and pulled me into Randall & Aubin where, if I remember rightly we ate oysters and zucchini fries. I’m sure about the zucchini fries, they’ve stayed in my head for years. When I spot them on a menu I order them, just to see if I can find anyone who can match the tender morsels in light tempura style batter that Randall & Aubin serve. I’ll concede to something equal, but not better, at Theo Randall’s.
I’m also sure that at the time, some fifteen or more years ago there was nothing else like Randall & Aubin in London. They say that imitation is the strongest form of flattery and now you can find a hundred or more look-alikes scattered around Soho. I’m still a loyal fan of the original though and so I was delighted to be invited along for Sunday lunch by Zomato to meet Ed Baines and learn a bit more about the ethos of the restaurant.
Discussing the sex life of the crab we were about to eat (apparently the male crab has two penises) was something I hadn’t anticipated. And, as we tried three different types of oysters, we learnt from Ed about their aphrodisiac qualities. I’ll carry on eating them though, despite resolute singledom. I wonder if they are popular in Monasteries?
Perhaps more pertinent was finding out about the kitchen principles at Randall & Aubin. There’s no sign of microwave or sous-vide – everything is prepared from scratch and using traditional methods. Without a side by side taste test I couldn’t say if the difference is noticable, but what I CAN say is that lunch was utterly delicious. We watched as Ed showed us how the main course was prepared, using a fresh fish stock made with prawn and lobster shells. He portioned up the cod and then, to my surprise, pan fried it without turning it. I’m not sure if I’ll manage to put all his advice into action the next time I cook fish, but I’ll certainly try cooking my samphire for a little longer (I tend to find it is too chewy), and I’ll definitely have a go at one sided pan frying, if only because that way I’ll stand half a chance of not breaking the fillet before it is served. He also showed us how to get that lovely cheffy ‘drizzle’ of sauce round a plate (use a medium sized spoon not a ladle). I suspect that owes something to practice though.
Having started his career at the Dorchester under Anton Mosimann, Ed went on to travel the world as a chef, spending time in London working at Bibendum and the River Cafe. He opened Daphne’s in South Kensington before setting up Randall & Aubin in 1996 with Jamie Poulton. At the time I suspect it must have felt like a bit of a backlash against the chi chi ladies who lunch at Daphne’s. Certainly, it was innovative – no one else had decent food on offer without white tablecloths and ultra formal service and the warehouse styling which is now commonplace in Soho London was pretty much confined to New York loft apartments.
I picked the grilled queen scallops with pancetta drizzled in caper, lemon & garlic butter. It’s a classic dish but one which can be spoilt easily – queenies are the little scallops that are so easy to over cook. And, in the wrong hands the portion size can seem a bit meagre. Not here though, I was more than happy with eight little scallop shells filled with goodness.
Between us, I think we must have tried most of the starters. I must admit to a little menu envy when I saw the plate of oysters and the hand picked devon crab…but, since we’d tried both downstairs in the kitchen, I did KNOW what I was missing.
Our main course was a beautifully prepared loin of cod on a bed of samphire, Jersey royals, garden salad and asparagus with a fresh shrimp cream. I’d happily order that dish again, though as Ed had explained to us, his dishes are often seasonal and certainly Jersey Royals and asparagus are just coming into season right now.
We did also have a crafty side order of zucchini fries, just as good as I remember them!
Dessert – well, again we seemed to manage to order everything on the menu between us. I loved the effect of the flambe creme brulee, though my chocolate sachertorte was definitely the best choice for a chocoholic like me – rich, high cocoa content chocolate in a sticky gooey cake.
It was a great lunch – a chance to get some understanding of the thinking behind what is now one of Soho’s classics, but which I remember as one of its best innovations. With many thanks to Randall & Aubin and Ed Baines for the hospitality and to Zomato for inviting me along.