By Jo Cooksey
They say, ‘Good things come to those who wait’ and we have been waiting for the opening of Randall & Aubin, in Manchester, for many a long month. Manchester has been bereft of a decent fish and seafood restaurant for a few years but thankfully it seems that gap has now been filled.
This Anglo/French seafood brasserie has been an institution in London’s Soho since 1996 and Manchester is their first opening outside of the capital. Jointly owned by top chef, Ed Baines, who cut his culinary teeth at The Dorchester, Bibendum and Daphne’s and ex-City businessman, Jamie Poulton, Randall & Aubin promises a menu of the best the oceans’ have to offer, as well as hearty meat dishes and an extensive champagne list
When our invitation to dine with them came through it happened to coincide with my birthday so I was doubly excited. Perched on the Spinningfields side of Bridge Street, the restaurant sports a narrow open window, through which passers-by can inspect the catch of the day, observe the kitchens and the cooking aromas can tantalise their nostrils. I can see this little showcase aperture really capturing passing trade.
Stepping through the doors we were greeted warmly by Rene Andria, part of the London team and James Storey, the Operations Director, who showed us round the restaurant. A stylish blend of bare brick, shiny white tiles and warm wood, with nods to the Art Deco period, the interior feels welcoming and relaxing. The open kitchen and bar are to the left, with seating to the right at slim, marble topped counters, complete with buttons to press for more champagne. At the rear are tables and booths. The ceiling is hung with glittering chandeliers, the tables topped with silver candelabras and the walls hung with vintage French posters.
We had our pick of where to sit and while we made ourselves comfy a glass of champagne appeared out of nowhere. Someone knew it was my birthday. Jamie, the joint-owner came and sat with us and we had a good old chat about the business, the London dining scene, Morecombe Bay brown shrimps and the fact that Ed and Jamie insist that they only source the freshest and best of ingredients. This, Jamie says, plays a huge part in their London longevity and success.
I must confess, I had already perused the menu several times in the previous few days and knew it almost by heart, although I still dithered about what to choose. There was so much, that sounded so good. Whilst we tried to decide we were brought a bread basket. Now I have a thing about bread and butter, I love it but it must be top notch, freshly baked bread, preferably a couple of different choices, with proper butter. I was not disappointed. There was also a little dish of anchovy paste, which was delightful. I could quite happy have sat there with the bread, the accompaniments and the champagne and had a thoroughly decent time. It’s the simple things in life that bring the most pleasure.
My dinner companion and I always choose dishes that we can share, so in the end we plumped for the R&A crab cakes with lime mayonnaise, watercress & radish salad at £9.95 and the grilled Manx Queenie scallops with pancetta drizzled in caper, lemon & garlic butter at £8.95. The crab cakes were hot, crispy and perfectly seasoned and the lime mayonnaise was light and zingy. I’m not sure what the dressing was on the salad but it was fabulous. Now the Queenie scallops were to die for. Much smaller than the usual restaurant scallops but so sweet and delicate. I thought the pancetta may have overpowered them but the pieces were very finely chopped and added just the right amount of saltiness to counterbalance the sweetness of the shellfish.
So far, so very good. On to the mains. Here I really struggled to choose, hovering between whole cracked brown crab mayonnaise, the dressed Dorset crab or the garlic roasted large Mediterranean prawns with pomme frites. In the end, I went for the dressed Dorset crab with R&A potato salad at £17.75 and a side of the R&A mixed salad at £4.85. My chum had a similar dilemma, plumping in the end for the crispy lemon sole with mustard dressed beans, pommes sauté and mint sauce at £17.50
I absolutely adore crab but at the same time I have quite a delicate stomach, so it must be just off the boat fresh. If the brown meat is even the slightest bit weary I just can’t stomach it. I can report that this crab couldn’t have been any fresher than if I had pulled it out of the Dorset sea myself. The crispy sole was indeed crispy but this wasn’t at cost of the fish, which was still moist.
While we contemplated dessert, I noticed Jamie talking to Ed Baines at the bar and I couldn’t help myself. Some people collect photos of themselves with sporting stars, famous singers or A-list actors. I collect snaps of myself with chefs. Ed seemed hardly phased by my request and sportingly posed for a pic taken by Jamie. Thank you for your patience guys.
Back to dessert. I have two go-to puds, by which I measure a restaurant’s capabilities. One is Tiramisu and the other is Crème Brûlée. There was a Flambée Crème Brûlée on the menu at £8, which I had with a black coffee, whilst my pal had Tart au Citron with blood orange sorbet & spiced mango, also £8. The custard part of my Brûlée was absolutely spot on; thick, unctuous, creamy and packed with vanilla flavour. Sadly, the caramelized sugar on the top was still quite granulated making this a 9 out 10. I’m sure it will be a 10 next time. The Tart au Citron was the right amount of zesty with a crisp, buttery pastry case and the sorbet was very refreshing with the spiced mango.
All in all, we had a fantastic meal in fabulous surroundings and we were totally spoiled by the staff and management. Thank you, Randall & Aubin, for choosing Manchester, we look forward to spending many more happy hours sampling your wonderful menu.