I have this presumption that since Knightsbridge is the quintessential tourist trap, eateries leading up to Harrods can mostly be disregarded, such as the hollow glitz that is the Brompton Quarter cafe, for example. But then there are those places which look intriguing, precisely the reason Racine has attracted me for so long. Like the rest of Knightsbridge, there’s always a bit of pretention in the air, and the ambiance at Racine is characteristic of the area. Belligerently looking to fit in and it is the reason which has turned me off from this place after years of pressing my forehead against the darkly windows. It’s personal I guess, I dislike restaurants which force me to act like an adult.
In any case, I finally took the plunge last Friday to celebrate a personal achievement. South Kensington has also been my home for the past eight years. I’ve eaten everything in the area, from the white chocolate banana crepes to the roast duck (boneless please) and even the chicken terikyaki bento at Little Japan. I haven’t tried the new Brindisa though. To my surprise, the cheerful staff had instantly erased whatever dreadful first impressions I once held about this place, the all wood interiors suddenly felt a lot more comfortable, and I set up camp chirpily at the table by the window. The menu is also darkly themed – a dense brown leather package – and describes familiar French classics. The prices are very pleasing. Starters include safe choices like warm garlic and saffron mousse with mussels (£7.50) , steak tartare (£8.00) to something a little wild like calf’s brains with capers (£8). I didn’t have the stomach for brains. Instead, I began proceedings with soft boiled duck egg, collioure anchovy, lentil and aioli. (£6.50)
The cold starter instantly hit the spot. Let’s start with the best bit, those perfectly delicate duck eggs, glossy on the outside and a creamy custard on the inside. The golden yolks had a glutinous gel like texture, which congealed nicely with the buttery lentils, and with intensely flavoured salted anchovies for seasoning, the whole dish was mouthful after mouthful of dreamy French cream. It was only etiquette that I wipe my plate clean with the crusty baguette.
There was also a Price Fixe option – three courses for £17.50 – which seemed like too good value to ignore, and so we thought it’d make an interesting experiment to sample both the ala carte and the set options during the same sitting. Starters were Pork Rillettes.
While I was spewing all kinds of suggestive adjectives with the eggs, on the other side of the table, all hell was breaking loose. Well mannered pork rillettes were hidden under a runny and fatty exterior that was reminiscent of cold regurgitated mucus. It was a shame though, the pork itself was flavoursome, but that congealing layer of fat was unbearable. Rarely do I fail to finish my partner’s meal, on this occasion, I couldn’t continue after two spoonfuls. Maybe this was a taste I had yet to acquire. Unfortunately, we had to disappoint our friendly waiter when he came to collect the dishes, he was so shocked that he apologised for the non-starter, which wasn’t his fault really. Good service though.
Alright then, let’s keep moving on – Fillet of cod, parsley purée and oxtail marmalade (£14.50)
The dish looks every bit the part, the three contrasting colours vivid and inviting. The fish was beautifully pan-fried, just the way I like it – only ever so slightly undercooked, flaky, bouncy and juicy. On to the oxtail marmalade, a subtly sweet floss – like barbeque jam. The parsley was so plain, I was certain it was only there to provide visual impact. The two major elements of this dish were technically faultless, on their own. As a combo, I thought neither element took charge. The naturally saltiness of the fish clashed with the jamminess of the marmalade. One did not serve to accentuate the other, there was no tension, but rather a sort of nothingness came over me when one ate this in totality. Cod and ham works because it is the same sort of meatiness, for example. I was looking for the same school of harmonious flavours, but the elements on this dish served to pull it apart. I wanted one or the other to take the lead, abit of salt (blasphemy!) on the cod kind of did the trick, but the more I worked through the dish, the more I wondered, where’s the fish?
On the Price Fixe front, we also tried a fish – Red Mullet.
While I was getting confused with the cod, the other half was indulging in her Price Fixe option: a pleasant red mullet – again perfectly cooked – with a fragrantly bisque-like tomato based sauce, in addition to unnecessary lashings of olive oil. Yeah, not bad.
Dessert was demerera meringue with tangy seville orange shavings and a dollop of golden Chantilly cream. Food is competitively priced. The meal, plus a glass of Red Bourgogne, Domaine Girardin (£7.50) and a large bottle of Badoit (£3) plus service (at 14.5%) came to £56. A strange meal to judge, on one hand, I think that the cooking is of a high technical quality, and I appreciated how the food was not overly buttery rich, so characteristic of French cuisine. But on the other hand, great dishes are also the result of great combinations and in that respect, it was a little forgettable. Maybe I should have tried the signature dishes instead. It would appear that Chef Henry prefers natural flavours to work their way onto the palate, and this dress-down, almost basic style of cooking – as opposed to a grander setting – is definitely attractive. Deep down I was rooting for Racine to deliver the goods but the food never really hit that high notes – abit like Danyl’s amazing first audition, in contrast to his confusing performances at Simon’s house in LA.
The Gist of It
Racine official site
£30 per person
239 Brompton Road SW3 2EP
Tel: 020 7584 4477