ANOTHER YEAR, SAME RESULT
A few years ago, I wrote about a meal at Racine, not long after it opened, and said that it was “a Café Rouge by any other name”
A tad harsh, I was much less lovable and cuddly in those days, but the result of a dispiritingly bad meal marred by insipid food and bad service.
Since then, people whose judgement I trust have told me I was wrong. In fact, one person even said “you’re wrong” and then put his hands over his ears and made “La La” noises to prevent further argument. Strong feelings indeed.
So, when today’s lunch with my chums Nick & Jenny called for a vaguely just West of centre, it seemed like it was worth giving it another try.
Well, the service has certainly improved. Very good it was, in fact with the Maitre ‘D and the staff being attentive without ever being obtrusive.
But, oh the food. No change there. The menu reads as if it is the sort of place I could eat at every day, but fails to deliver in final execution.
Standard bread comes with Eschire butter, which is always a good sign of a place’s serious intentions and as we nibbled on that, we chose starters of Salmon Tartare and fresh crab with mayonnaise which exemplified the whole meal. Decent enough ingredients but lacking any zing. The crab particularly passed from fork to belly with barely a notice from me as I chatted to my friends. I did however notice that the Poilane bread toast that came with it was rock hard as if it had been pre prepped and left to sit. The Salmon was another “ so what?” dish and the forkful I tried did not make me wish I had ordered it.
Main courses went down much the same route. A pan fried chunk of Halibut was slightly over cooked but with a good crust and a slivers of sea cucumber. As a whole acceptable, but when the main ingredient is cooked to the point of almost being mushy, you can’t say the dish as a whole is a success.
Likewise, a dish of lamb sweetbreads and kidney which came with minted peas. This is the sort of dish that both Nick and me adore and we both knew the other would choose it. Again, it was better in the reading than in the eating. This time the main ingredients were cooked perfectly and the kidney came with a pleasingly pink centre. However, levels of salt in the dish smothered just about any other flavour and I struggled my way through the dish.
We did not bother with pudding but they aced the mint tea test as, indeed, they did the napkin test.
My friends were kind enough to treat a poor weary traveller to lunch so, I don’t know what the final account came to. I am guessing that we saw little, if any change out of £120 including a well deserved service charge.
In the end, like so many places in London (Arbutus being another perfect example) the menu at Racine reads as if it could be my idea of Heaven but fails in the execution ending up at a level of mediocrity that sees plates come and go barely leaving a mark on the memory.
Café Rouge , in my limited experience of one or two meals there, turned ordinary ingredients into the barely edible. Racine turns good ingredients into the barely memorable.
I am not sure if that is not worse.
You know who you are, you can take your hands off your ears, I have finished now.
Oh, and I was right