Soho could not be a merrier place. The colours of the rainbow adorn shop fronts and in this most celebrated of city underbellies – home to a myriad of eclectic restaurants – it is the default option to hang out with the cool kids, albeit being a little cliché. Randall & Aubin is such a place for them cool kids; There is an air of relaxed openness from the outset as if, like the rest of Soho, the party never stops. The thumping music so loud it is matched by the eye catching seafood counter. We might still be knee deep in a recession, but man do I need to indulge in abit of weekend gluttony.
Inside the restaurant, it could not be more pumping and gay, as we had to shout to be heard. The aged interiors, a giant glitter ball hanging off the ceiling and seemingly roughly done paintjob added to this location’s spontaneity, like a pop up oyster bar making a permanent home. The Randall & Aubin folklore begins in 1911 as a champion of the finest cuts of meat and cheese. The family business continued until 1996, when it was then converted by James Poulton and Edward Baines from a butchery to its current incarnation as a purveyor of oyster & bubbles, as well a cracking good time.
The party was decidedly happening, even at 4pm in the afternoon. I stopped by for a late lunch, as R&A always looked packed to the brim at night, tempted particularly by the seafood. Inside, this Sunday afternoon crowd had similar intentions; champagne corks popping frequently enough for me to notice it, caviar available at celebratory prices, £90 for 30g. We chose to sit facing the aged tiled walls for privacy, occasionally turning around to absorb abit of the energetic ambiance.
Sliced baguette with marinated olives came first, each basket available with a cover charge of £1.50 per diner. As you would expect, there is plenty of fish on the menu, but it doesn’t stop there. R&A also feature a rotisserie – visible to diners – and you could watch the chicken roast itself on the rotating spit (as I was doing). The grazing menu is snack friendly and I just want to highlight their baguette section, because the bread they served us, was well worth the cover charge, crusty on the outside and a softly sweet dough on the inside. Fillings include salt beef with sauerkraut and hot chicken salad, served with pomme frites at £7.95 each.
A portion of thinly cut frites got the gears churning as we largely ignored the cooked menu in favour of the magnum opus to match the occasion. Fruits de mer, £29.50 per person.
“Is it big? Enough for two?” In hindsight I asked the waitress a naive question. Puzzled, she simply replied “Yes.”
All the gems from the sea were present on this platter of ice, except for a granddaddy lobster. Six rock oysters accompanied two giant langoustines, an oversized crab, six green lip mussels, a pot of diver picked scallops, a handfuls of whelks, a couple of cherry clams and huge altantic shrimps. The embarrassment of riches was a visual treat, as I stood (yes I got up from my high stool) to rotate the platter around, the waitress smiled and said “Big enough for you?” to which I nodded and gleefully returned the smile.
Oh gosh, this was really a treat. I started at the top with the sliced scallops, which I think were only briefly browned, the texture inside was as tender as a lullaby and a natural flavour that can only be seasoned by a lifetime spent in the deep sea. A dollop of the horseradish and a few spoonfuls of the citrusy pink shallots vinaigrette gave the razor fresh rock oysters a much needed bang as I greedily slurped the invigorating juices. The shellfish were the highlight for me, especially the oversized prawns. As I broke the head from the body, savoury juices came spewing out at me, the chunky flesh was so full of natural sweetness, that it needed no seasoning whatsoever. Similarly, the langoustines were all about natural bounce & flavour – akin to the shimmer & bounce shampoo commercials so regularly allude to. I felt like Poseidon with a miniature pitchfork digging for diamonds among the jewels presented in front of me.
I’m not the biggest fan of sea snails, but the nautical gastropods were just so juicy. I wished for a couple more crab claws, but overall I was entirely satisfied with this feast. £59 is a lot of money for two, thankfully the portions were epic and quality wise, the shellfish were so fresh off the boat that the melting ice in the platter smelled of the sand and the sea. We are still living through the greatest recession in history thus far, so I avoided the bubbly and opted for two glasses of palette cleansing Pinot Grigio’s instead, our bill came to £85. I think Randall & Aubin is an instant classic in a storied location, the understated ambiance encourages you go let your hair down, and tempts you to really let go of that tweed jacket, in case you spill the caviar all over it. Seafood is excellent and I’m looking forward to a return visit to try the more modestly priced cooked food.
The Gist of It
Randall & Aubin official site
£30 per person
16 Brewer Street W1F 0SG
Tel: 020 7287 4447
Closest Tube: Picadilly Circus