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Few London restaurants deliver the bonhomie of a genuine Parisian bistro with the passion and panache of Racine – and even fewer have been doing it to great acclaim for more than a decade. Tiny
tables packed cheek-by-jowl, wicker baskets loaded with sliced baguette, a menu stuffed with bourgeois classics, a regional wine list stretching across France – it's all seriously authentic stuff.
Chef/patron Henry Harris never compromises on flavour or ingredients, and shows his affection for Gallic cuisine with ever-popular specialities such as calf's brains in brown butter with capers or
grilled rabbit leg with mustard sauce and green beans. Elsewhere, steak tartare and wobbly crème caramel are several cuts above your bistro average. A bargain set menu keeps demand high, with only
the occasionally brusque waiter and a whopping 14.5 per cent service charge letting the side down.
Racine has been open for exactly a decade. Chef Henry Harris was cooking at Harvey Nichols on the Fifth Floor for about the same length of time, when he decided that it was about time that he started his own restaurant. Prior to that he cooked for, and alongside Simon Hopkinson. First at Hilaire, and then at Bibendum. We have eaten HH's food at Harvey Nicks a number of times, and also at Bibendum too. However, prior to today we have only ever eaten at Racine just the once. Our decision to make such a belated return journey was through twitter. I read that they were expecting a delivery of grouse on Monday 13th, the day after the Grouse season officially started, and that fact inspired me enough to take another look at the menu. Of course our visit was to be a couple of days too early for the grouse that I so desired, but the menu read very well and appealing enough to make that return visit.The interior really has an authentic feel of French bistro, and classic French food is what is on offer. Dark woods dominate and crisp white tablecloths give a feel of formality. Mirrors are in abundance helping to reflect the light around the room.The menu was varied and tempting, with lots of French classics. Pricing is especially keen considering its prime property location. Classic starters were Charcuterie, snails, Calves brains, foie gras, etc, etc. Mains, from a choice of ten, were priced between £16.50 and £28.50 (filet au poivre) and included, Barbary duck, Lamb chops, Limousin Veal, Tete de Veau, Calves liver, etc, etc.Of particular interest this lunch visit was the exceptionally good value Prix fixe menu which is also available early evening. A steal at £15.50 for two, or £17.75 for three courses. There is also a "specials" list of temptations. So much choice indeed.Bread was good, as good a baguette as you would get anywhere. The French butter too was impressive.My Salade paysanne was exactly what I desired as a starter for a sunny lunchtime. Confit rabbit, heart and liver. Zingy crunchy bitter endive (in this case chicory) with a most welcome mustard mayonnaise. Moist, texturally interesting and good flavour from the rabbit. A satisfying plate of food.Another pleasant dish was my wife's Grilled aubergine, herbs, smoke cods roe. The herbs were some distinctive parsley and mint. Crunchy baguette crouton added another dimension. The charred aubergine was delicious and I detected a lemon hit running through the dish. My Sardines were fresh on the day from Dorset. Again for me just the right dish for a late summer lunch. So. Very fresh grilled sardines, some aubergine, courgette and char grilled potato halves, The tomato puree added taste, moisture, and visual appeal. Simple but effective.The other main course was my wife's first choice. Braised Veal with lemon. The cut of veal was explained as being the rib cap, which had been rolled and braised. In the very tasty soup was some Toulouse sausage, peas, and tomato cubes. My wife liked the dish, but the cut was a little too fatty for her taste. I thought it had very good depth of flavour but the meat was slightly stringy and again overly fatty. However, having said that it did not put me off , as most of the flavour came from the fat element of this cut of meat. Besides which, you could argue the dish is what it is, and not a prime cut of meat.Having our inquisitive and greedy heads on we simply could not resist sharing a "Summer lunch special" of Duck confit, Puy lentils, green salad and a glass of wine (£16.50)Of course this dish really epitomises French cuisine at its best. I nearly did not choose this because it is a dish that I make at home but I wanted to eat Harris's version, as I knew it would be better than mine, and it was. One of the other "specials " was A pair of slip soles, lemon oil, chives, and Amalfi lemon. Tempting. In fact very tempting, but not this time. Perhaps next?Even without the extra main course portion size is more than adequate, indeed it is generous even for those with a large appetite.To finish the meal on the Prix fixe menu there was a simple choice of sorbets, cheese, or raspberry coupe, and we decided to share the latter.So Raspberry coupe. As simple as you like, fresh raspberries, whipped cream, ice cream, tiny meringues, raspberry puree and a trickle of ?With the meal we enjoyed a very pleasant bottle of Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux de Languedoc 2011 (£24).As it would happen, and again thanks to twitter, HH recommended this to another one of his customers so we just had to try it out ourselves, and guess what? It was spot on.For a Saturday lunch, it was comforting to see Monsieur Harris was in the kitchen. A lot of head chefs tend to skip Saturday lunch and return for the busy evening service. He popped out of his kitchen to greet a couple of diners, who no doubt looked like they were happy regulars.So to sum up then.We enjoyed Racine very much. It delivered what we wanted on the day. Honest, big, butch flavoured French food from a chef who clearly enjoys putting a smile on peoples faces.Service was friendly, relaxed, but slightly off kilter at times. We had three different servers during the visit and a couple of minor slips occurred. Overall though this did little to dent the experience.If you crave classic French cuisine, served in an atmospheric setting, in a posh part of town, with decidedly un posh pricing.Go here.
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