Urbanspoon has opened my eyes to the wonderful world of London food blogging, and puts together a helpful list of restaurants that everyone’s talking about. I was hoping to try the great-sounding Polpo with my law school friends on Wednesday night, but decided against it because I was worried that, being so popular, we’d be rushed to eat and leave, and I’d read a couple of disparaging reviews. Also, trendy places in London worry me – getting a table is often too hard and there’s a tendency for style over substance. So, Polpo can wait for next time.
Instead, I opted for the wonderful Randall & Aubin. El Grumpo and I walked past it on the way to Yalla Yalla and were intruiged by the disco balls, pumping house and the smiley happy people inside.
You can’t book a table, which I thought would be a pain – but is perhaps key to its relaxed, party vibe. The waiting staff are seriously friendly and make sure anyone waiting gets bottles of wine and champers, to the point that no-one seems to care and the crowds of relaxed, smiling people make for a great atmosphere (apparently they asked for and received special dispensation from the council to serve bottles of wine to those queueing outside).
From start to finish they appear to be saying, “don’t rush, take your time” which carried on throughout the meal – being lawyers, you never know when everyone is going to arrive so you need a flexible table policy – one of our friends turned up about 2 hours late and they were fine with her ordering her main after we’d all finished, and no-one was asked to hurry their meals even when the outside queue grew long (unlike, say, the Buddha Bar). Service is there when you need but leaves you alone, which, added to the emphasis on seafood, is perhaps why it is also very romantic.
Randall & Aubin is a party place covered in glitter balls and decorations, with an old school twist in its marble tables and chrome finishes, perhaps stemming from its birth as a butcher shop in 1911. With all these people milling around, everyone squashed together at the marble tables, and champagne flowing like water (it is a self-proclaimed champagne and oyster bar) – it felt like we were at the best party in town. Although slightly sad to say, with my 3 girlfriends, it felt very Sex & The City.
I LOVED the music – described as too loud and even “inappropriate” by other reviewers – we were able to talk easily (albeit quite loudly) while a fantastic soundtrack of handbag house and 70s disco pumped out. I fell in love again with Donna Summer’s amazing “State of Independence“.
All this taken into account, I didn’t expect the food and wine to be quite as wonderful as it was. We drank a gorgeous bottle of Malbec (£25) and then a Viognier with the fish (£23) – both delicious. The food was also amazingly good (which explained anew why people were so happy to queue).
I don’t know of another mid-price seafood specialist in London, and I was excited by the reasonably-priced and extensive seafood menu – it had been ages since I’d eaten like this. The starters of fresh Devon crab salad and calamari were simple, fresh and tasty; the crab salad especially yummy. For mains, Nicola had the scallops and Jo the halibut, which both said were delicious. Rach and I had the half grilled lobster with salad and chips, which was spectacular. At £16.50 it is pretty much the only time in London I’ve felt I could afford to eat lobster, and it was simply cooked, tasty and meaty. Next time I’d like to try the Scottish langoustine, the whole dressed crab and the assiete de fruits de mer, with a nice bottle of vino blanco, especially in summer – mouth is watering already! The roti chicken is recommended in other reviews.
All in all, we paid £170 between 4 (£40 each) for 2 bottles of wine plus 2 more glasses, a main each and 2 starters to share – for great wine and incredible seafood, it’s not a normal Soho dinner but a bit of a gastronomic disco experience – highly recommended!