Seafood is difficult to get right in a major metropolis. Sure, a trip to a coastal city like Boston, MA will yield a glut of premium ocean produce, and UK towns like Whitby and Padstow are rightly famed for the quality and freshness of their fish, but places like London, New York, and Paris? Chances are, if you want the real deal, you’re going to have to pay for it.
Which makes Soho institution Randall and Aubin something of a hidden gem. I say ‘hidden’ out of personal experience, having wandered by the establishment countless times over the last 10+ years. On each occasion, my reaction was the same: “That looks nice, but I’m my way to [insert Dean/Frith Street eatery here]”. At long last, though, I got the chance to sample the wares at Randall and Aubin, thanks to an invite from restaurant discovery app Zomato.
Now, as some of you may have noticed, I haven’t reviewed a restaurant in a fair while now, and it’s been even longer since I trundled along to a blogger’s event. So this was something of an experimental outing for me, but – in the end – one I was very glad I risked.
The premise at Randall and Aubin, a venture backed by celebrity chef Ed Baines, is straightforward enough: simply prepared seafood dishes that utilise top quality, mainly British ingredients, augmented by the odd contemporary touch.
In terms of the venue itself, Randall and Aubin started life as an oyster bar, rocking the whole ‘stools and communal tables’ vibe long before it became the uniform for every mediocre new Shoreditch outfit. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, of course – perching on a stool for the duration of dinner wouldn’t suit my mother, for example – but it keeps with the hustle and bustle of its Soho trappings.Being a bit of a bivalve fiend, said oysters were the obvious place to start. Now, I’m fairly opinionated when it comes to oysters. Having being weened as a young strapling on Duxbury’s finest, and completed the requisite pilgrimage to Il de Re since moving to Europe-land, I can only truly recommend a handful of metropolitan restaurants worth eating them at: Wright Brothers in London, Brighton’s Riddle & Finns, and the wonderfully ramshackle Huîtrerie Régis in Paris. Even the otherwise superb 64 Degrees fell foul of this particular prejudice by over-complicating this supreme oceanic specimen.
But I can now add a fourth to my miserly shortlist in the form of Randall and Aubin, where a selection platter of eight English, Irish, Scottish and French rock oysters will set you back £18.50 – not inconsiderable, but no more than other decent city shuckers. As too, I’m happy to report, is the quality.
Each variety displayed its own unique characteristics, from the mildly sweet, clean grassy flavours of the Irish oysters to the silky saline hit of the French offerings. All of them were the real deal, and it’s definitely worth popping in for a glass and half a dozen if you’re passing by on payday. Speaking of which: wines, selected for us, were all-to-easy to sup, and I was particularly impressed by an unctuous Spanish Albariño. The lower end of the plonk parade, with bottles from £20-30 and glasses roughly between £6-9, seemed reasonable enough value, given the part of town we were in.
Less extravagant starters were of a similarly high quality. Crab cakes, unflattened, were crisp little delicate balls that featured a generous amount of fresh, sweet crab meat – no hint of too much breading, nice and moist without being wet. The accompanying aioli was spiked with a bit of lime and, while I always yearn for a nice ballsy remoulade with crab cakes, did the job just fine.
On to the main event, and it was the special of the day: cod loin fillet served with a simple but clever salad of Jersey Royal potatoes, new season asparagus, and samphire, spiked with more of that sweet, sweet crab meat. Throw in a handful of frisee lettuce leave for crunch and a smooth shellfish sauce (prawn and lobster in this instance) and you have a dish that balanced the fish’s light, fresh flavours with some well-chosen, pleasing elements of texture.
It was the fish that ultimately starred though, as it should. It arrived masterfully cooked, with still-translucent flesh just the right side of underdone – the ultimate hallmark of a top-notch fish kitchen, supremely confident in the freshness of their ingredients. A side of zucchini fritters wasn’t quite as faultless – they could have a bit crisper – but rounded things out nicely and were ideal for sharing on the side.
I usually pass on pudding (especially these days, when I’m trying to ‘hack’ my health and fitness and all that reggae), but I felt a certain desire to see this lovely meal out and run the full course of the menu. I opted for the crème brûlée, which arrived still on fire (see below) – an oddly (but not unpleasantly) flashy touch for a restaurant that otherwise relied on the ‘end game’ of its food, as opposed to any attempts at showmanship. Still, it was a perfectly acceptable pud, with the glass-like top shattering under my spoon’s crass embrace to reveal a delicious (if slightly runny) cream centre. Even better was the velvety smooth salted caramel ice cream that accompanied a neighbour’s cheesecake. Pure indulgence? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.
But what about pricing, you bellow? Well, this is central London, and it’s not ramen, fried chicken or a burger. That means it’s going to cost something, but this is a ‘something’ I ultimately felt was reasonable. Starters can be had for as little as £6 and typically hover around the £8-10 mark. Mains, similarly, sit in the polite £15-20 zone that you’d expect from a proper restaurant in W1. Obviously, things can creep up if you start downing oysters and lobster, but you can also have a very nice meal at Randall and Aubin without breaking the bank. Based on my experience, it’s something I’d happily cough up for again.
I was invited to review Randall and Aubin.