Randall and Aubin in three words: Exuberant, Convivial, Fabulous
The Lowdown: It feels important to note that our visit to Randall and Aubin began with hoots of laughter, and ended in a very similar vein. In terms of abbreviations, we were very nearly ROFLing (I slipped off my stool in mirth, anyway). If there is a more friendly, welcoming seafood restaurant in Soho then I have yet to discover it. From our adorable waitresses faux-arguing with each other about who got to recommend us dishes, to the dashing waiter boogying behind the coffee machine as he made our espresso martinis, there is a general effervescence of friendliness that positively lights up the place.
This isn’t to say that all the joviality is covering for quality. Randall and Aubin are staples on the Soho scene, having been opened as a seafood restaurant since 1996. However, the origin of R&A begins in 1906, and was originally a butcher’s shop that became renowned as being one of London’s premier gourmet food retailers. Now they’ve made a reputation for themselves as being the place to come for a good time and a good meal.
Location: In the fizzing, lively and colourful part of Soho that is Brewer Street. R&A shares its location with a number of sex shops, some grade A Mexican cuisine, a space-age frozen yogurt den and other eclectic establishments. There’s definitely something curious about the doorway across the street with a sign saying ‘models’ above it. Ah Soho, we love you.
The Occasion: Go with friends before a night out to be sure of an absolutely super time that will put you in a good mood for the whole day. Also, if you’re hankering after oysters and champagne then this is the place for you.
Decor: The venue retains some of the beautiful Victorian features of the butcher’s shop, but also now has high stools to provide relaxed seating along the marble bar tables. You may find yourselves rubbing shoulders with other patrons, yet the space doesn’t feel crowded – more cosy. On the walls are arty pictures of champagne and oysters, then they’ve thrown in some chandeliers and a disco ball to epitomise what they’re about – glamorous fun.
Atmosphere: A lively, bubbling and carefree atmosphere prevails in R&A – visitors are greeted with the warmest reception, everyone seems to be having a good time and there’s the feeling that all is right with the world. It’s accessible luxury done to a T.
Culinary Concept: Fantastic seafood and classic dishes is what the menu is all about – they’re famous for their oysters, as well as the freshest catches of the day.
What we tried: Since it was a Friday – and we were encouraged – we started with oysters and bubbles (it didn’t take much). The Randall and Aubin champagne is absolutely delicious – light on the tongue, wonderfully fizzy and with a nice snappy finish. We were recommended the English oysters by our waiter Renee who gave us an interesting mini-lesson in native vs farmed varieties. The oysters were divine – large and creamy, we swilled them around our mouths enjoying the burst of ocean mixed with piquant horseradish and vinegar.
Next we tried a recommended starter of tuna tartar – a stunningly good plate of pink sashimi-like fish with Asian influences of soy and sesame. It smacked of freshness and oriental delights, and was matched in tastiness by another starter of hand-picked Devon crab. This was a mound of rich dark meat topped with succulent lighter shavings, and swept us with a wave of nostalgic love for seasides and crab pate, only in a far more refined and elegant setting.
Luckily the starters were light enough for us to enjoy a delicious main of thick, unctuous bouillabaisse – amazing terracotta-coloured sauce with a plethora of seafood and little islands of oval potato and crusty croutons, all served with a sunflower-yellow aioli. It was absolutely everything a bouillabaisse should be, and the second main of lemon sole involved two crisp pieces of golden battered fish, served with lashings of zesty lemon to bring out the intensely fresh flavour. Bravo, Randall and Aubin!
For next time: Given the quality of seafood emerging from the kitchen, we’d like to try it all. The giant scallops with crispy fennel sounds divine, and one day we will attempt to battle the Plats de Fruits de Mer.
Veggie delights: Those not keen on meat or fish can chow down on salad or soup, but to be honest they’re better off finding a different eatery.
Best of the booze: We heartily recommend the Randall and Aubin bubbles, and the wine list is thoroughly good – we enjoyed a tasty Picpoul de Pinet with our main course. An espresso martini finished the dinner perfectly with its punchy, frothy caffeine hit.
Overall: There’s a lot of rumours about Soho at the moment – the fact it’s being bought out and carved up and sold to the highest bidder, soon to become yet another central London hub for touristy overpriced food chains with zero personality. We can’t let this happen, because it is essential to our city that people can walk down the street and pass a brothel on one side and have the opportunity to nip in for quality seafood on the other. R&A is one of those restaurants that becomes and instant favourite – it is frivolous and fabulous, just like Soho, and yet also like Soho, it has a serious side. Soho is serious about preserving the individual elements of the city, R&A is serious about the food.
In the days preceding our visit had told a number of friends we were heading here, all who threw their hands in the air and proclaimed they ‘love’ the place. And now we’ve been, we’ll do exactly the same.
14- 16 Brewer Street, London W1F 0SG
020 7287 4447