Racine

Racine seems to have this mystical reputation as being one of the best non-high end French restaurants in London, and it was because of this reputation that my friend J wanted us to go. I have been once before, a long time ago, and while I didn’t think that the food was bad, I didn’t remember it being particularly memorable either. Racine always seems packed whenever I go past it, and so it felt like time to try it again.

So did Racine live up to its reputation? In the décor stakes, I would say yes. The restaurant is cozy and warm, and the ambience sings a buzzing tune. The moment you walk through the door, you get the sense that you have been transported to some hidden romantic hideaway in rural France.

To start, a foie gras ballotine (£12.75) was rich in flavour and wonderfully creamy in texture, but the accompanying brioche was disappointing. Instead of being soft in the centre, it was dry and a little crusty. It also lacked the requisite sweetness.

Foie gras ballotine

Foie gras ballotine

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Ricardo’s Italian Restaurant

Ricardo’s Italian Restaurant is a little Tuscan eatery that we – two girls at a loose end as to where to eat on a Saturday night – stumbled into. It’s not a well known restaurant, but I’ve driven past it a gazillion times and it’s always full, so I figured it couldn’t be half bad.

Although we had not booked, we managed to get a table, which was a bit of a squeeze. The dining room is rectangular, and most of the tables are packed very tightly along the wall. The menu makes for difficult reading as well. It’s one long laminated list of starters, pasta, fish and meats, in no particular order, which caused us some confusion as to what were starters or mains. There was also a shortlist of the day’s specials attached to it.

Fish soup with Sardinian fregola

Fish soup with Sardinian fregola

We started with a fish soup (crab, clams, prawns) with Sardinian fregola and chilli (£9.99). I am a big fan of Sardinian fregola, which goes deliciously well with fresh seafood and a rich tomato base. The menu listed crab as an ingredient, but this was hard to detect in the soup. There were two decent sized pieces of butterflied king prawns which were crunchy but not particularly flavoursome, and the clams were ok. This was a passable dish, but the soup lacked intensity of flavour.

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The Cadogan Arms

Sunday lunch was at The Cadogan Arms, a gastropub which is owned by the ETM Group who also own other well known gastropubs such as The Well, The Gun, The White Swan and The Botanist, etc. The Cadogan Arms closed for extensive refurbishment in December 2008 and reopened for business in April this year. Although I have had some good meals at the various ETM establishments in prior years, my last outing was a far less positive experience. We were at The Botanist last year (pre-blog) when we were served bread that was still frozen. This was probably a one off, but I just got the feeling that on that particular occasion the food was not going to be good and that we would be better served to simply abort our mission and leave before our mains.

Scallops with smoked pork belly & pea puree

Scallops with smoked pork belly & pea puree

We didn’t get good bread at The Cadogan Arms either. Our sourdough bread was dry and tasted a little stale. A starter of seared scallops with smoked pork belly and pea puree (£9.50) was also disappointing for the scallops were rubbery and bland. Unevenly sized to the point where one piece was about double the size of the other two, this bigger piece surprisingly released a noticeable amount of liquid when I sliced into it, as if it might have been cooked from frozen and was still defrosting on my plate. The pea puree was tasty, although the smoked pork belly wasn’t particularly smoky. The presentation of the dish was also poor for some of the balsamic dressing had smudged on the plate. This dish was unappetitising and I was unable to finish it.

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Tom Aikens – A Friendly Lunch

Ever since I started this food blog, I have come to realise just how tolerant my wonderful friends are. When we eat out together, they sit patiently by as I take photos of all our food. All the while they look hungrily on, twitching to start eating. I also suspect they silently groan every time I say “just one more photo”. But ever so supportive of my cause, they always let me taste their dishes without necessarily wanting to taste mine. One of my friends occasionally lets me order for her. (Am I spoilt or what?) I have therefore decided that there is definitely some merit in writing these restaurant reviews: I get to eat my food, and I get to try everyone else’s too. Could there possibly be a more winning combination? But in what was to be a first, I recently found out what it felt like to eat out with someone like me.

Tom Aikens

Tom Aikens

Having got in touch with a professional food writer recently, we decided to meet for lunch; our choice of venue – Tom Aikens, one of the restaurants currently taking part in London Restaurant Week. So here we were the two of us, at a one-star Michelin restaurant, with notepads in hand, scribbling madly away. And there was also the not so subtle matter of our photo taking: swivelling plates around for that ever better angle, rearranging the table for perhaps a more superior shot. What a sight we must have been to behold, both snapping crazily at the food like Japanese tourists! And oh no, it wasn’t just one photo, but at least two, three or four of every dish. At one point, I almost elbowed my dining companion in the face as I scrambled to take better aim. And we really couldn’t have been missed. With only five tables occupied during our sitting, less than half of those available, the black and white dining room was rather quiet and a little stark.

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The Pig’s Ear

Roasted partridge with white truffle broth

Roasted partridge with white truffle broth

I once entered into a humorous discussion with an American about English slang. And by that I mean slang used by British people for he really didn’t consider it correct to call such slang ‘English’. He was American after all, and from cowboy country – Texas to be exact, with a cowboy hat to show for it. Newly arrived in London, everything was quite astoundingly strange to him. For those of you who have ever had the experience of being an expatriate, the feelings of perplexity around the unfamiliarity of a new country might resound. But perhaps the most perplexing thing for him was the ‘language’. “Bob’s your uncle?? Now what is that suppose to mean?” he would say.

Hmm, I take his point. I too am an expatriate in London, but I do know what ‘Bob’s your uncle’ means. Jamie Oliver has used it often enough on his cooking shows, but I don’t know why it means what it does. But then, I’m hardly one to ask. Not having grown up in Britain, I’ve not been exposed to certain ‘English’ slang. Take for instance the idiom ‘pig’s ear’. Goodness knows I had no idea what an ear of a pig meant until it was revealed to me at an eating expedition to the gastropub, The Pig’s Ear, as rhyming slang for beer.

The Pig’s Ear had come to my attention on account of a similarly piggy friend of mine murmuring into my little piggy ear something about having recently dined there and thoroughly enjoying it. Browsing through Peter Prescott and Sir Terence Conran’s book, Eat London, I also happened to stumble across the write-up for The Pig’s Ear. They rate it as one of the best gastropubs in London. This meant only good things, which was why my friends, S and T, and I went in search of a little piggy adventure.

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