Thursday, June 07, 2007

Racine: French Food and the Portuguese Cup Final

Stupidly, the girlfriend and I decided to go to the Tate Britain over that particularly miserable Bank Holiday weekend to see the first major exhibition of British photography at the gallery. How We Are: Photographing Britain is an excellent collection; unfortunately, I only managed to see about a third of it, the rest obscured by the other couple of million people who decided to do the same and who then seemed to follow me around, generally standing in front of things that I might want to look at.

A particular highlight that I did manage to get a peek at was the small collection of food photography from the ‘70’s. Books called things like “Food in Colour” featuring the some of the most shocking use of pineapple rings imaginable. I never knew food could be quite so vividly primary coloured. It also seems making concentric circles was an important factor in 1970’s food styling.

We tried our best, we really did, even braving the café but the great rain coated masses finally drove us out. On the street with a booking at Racine on the Brompton Road two hours away we were a bit stuck. So what to do? When in doubt, find a pub. So we did. In the warm gloom of a pub on the Vauxhall Bridge Road we hatched our plan. We would stop in every pub on the way to the restaurant, thus killing the next two hours and getting us in the mood for dinner. Armed with brolly and a very rough map drawn on the back of a napkin copied from a borrowed A to Z we set off.

2 hours later, after more than a few pints, six games of pool and an education in Portuguese football we stumbled through the rain into the tastefully muted space that is Henry Harris’ French bistro Racine. I never knew there were quite so many Portuguese immigrants in Pimlico, so I’d had to drunkenly resist a few chalked up fish stews and plates of calamari on offer in various pubs, that and the elation of victory on the pool table had me in a hungry mood.

We weren’t so pissed as to be a hazard to ourselves or the staff, but were more than half cut to start giggling at the tables of Americans that seem to have colonised the place. Sorry, to any American readers, but we were drunk and they all looked like Barbara Bush.

The restaurant has been open five or six years now and quite a few folk I’ve spoken to rate it as one of their favourite spots in the city. It’s old school French regional cooking and I’d been looking forward to a visit after the high praise the steak tartar had been given by a friend. That was soon forgotten after a glance at the menu. Classic dishes stared back at me and I was entranced from the start. After much deliberation and the distractions of the fine bread and butter, which were always topped up the minute there was only a single piece left, I settled on the Calves Brains with Black Butter and Capers and Roast Quail with Wild Mushrooms.

The Calves brains were creamy and sweet, every so slightly crispy on the outside, perfectly offset by the deeply savoury capers. I wracked my own brains for the last time I’d eaten brain and it must have been when I was a kid and if you believe my mother, seemingly lived off lamb’s brains. The girlfriend’s Saffron and Garlic Mousse with Mussels was less of triumph, only because she realised she didn’t actually like mousse when it arrived and there weren’t enough mussels and too much mousse for her taste.

The quails were ever so slightly bloody and sweetly tender, my enjoyment of them aided a great deal by the provision of a finger bowl just at the juncture that I thought I was going to have tackle them with a knife and fork. The girlfriend’s rabbit was triumphantly gamey and cooked quite perfectly. The cheese plate we shared was a bit of a struggle, it has to be said, more to do with being just pissed enough to gorge on bread at the start of the meal than anything else.

All in all, Racine impressed with a no nonsense, straight to the point menu. I liked this. No messing about and assured. A bit of gem I’d say.

Racine, 239 Brompton Road, London, SW3 2EP
Telephone: 0871 3328626

No comments: