Mr & Ms Smith, Racine Review / GUEST BLOGGER

Mr. and Ms. Smith are a couple of fellow hedonists and now regular contributors to the Hg2 Blog. Their identities? A mystery. We’ll be bringing you their restaurant reviews each and every week. This week the couple take a stroll down Brompton Road to review Racine.
Read Mr. & Ms. Smith’s last review here
Check out Mr & Ms Smith’s blog here

Racine Restaurant, 239 Brompton Road, SW3
Ms. Smith: I don’t get Gloucester Road. Neighbour to both Knightsbridge and Earls Court, it can boast neither the grandiose nature of the former or the student/traveller vibe of the latter. Its high ceilinged, Regency apartments are both lavish and characterless. There’s something totally soulless about the place which makes me think that nobody really wants to live there, they just end up there. After twenty years in London, I have been to Gloucester Road only a handful of times and that was to complete an Exercise to Music course being held at the David Lloyd Club over five years ago. Since obtaining my certificate, I had never taught aerobics or visited Gloucester Road again until last week, when Mr. Smith suggested a mid-week, early-evening rendezvous at the Grange Strathmore, a hidden gem just a three-minute walk from Gloucester Road station.

The Grange Group of hotels is one of London’s best-kept secrets. Traditionally English/Scottish, it doesn’t aspire to be cool on any level. What its properties do is comfort and value for money, especially if you bypass the discount hotel websites and go straight to the Grange’s own where a last-minute rate of just over £100 a night will get you a bedroom with a double and two twin beds, bathroom, flat screen TV, and more furniture than is necessary.

Former home to the late Queen Mother’s father, the Earl of Strathmore, the hotel has all the quirky touches one would expect from a place untouched by the Kelly Hoppens or Ian Schragers of this world. Blue, red and yellow tartan carpet features throughout, not just on the floor but also on the inside of the lift, while the rooms are all red and gold and cream. The TV was set so far back against the wall it was not viewable from our bed. Still, Mr. Smith and I were not at the hotel to soak up the atmosphere but each other and for that it’s just as good any other decent hotel. OK, perhaps the three beds was a bit OTT for just £123/night, but neither of us was going to complain. Firmdale Group, eat your heart out.

After a seriously good time in the sack, Mr. Smith and I had built up an appetite. Being unfamiliar with the area, I left it up to him to choose a restaurant. Mr. Smith had used his influence to get us a table at Racine, a typical French place popular with the locals who have the means to part with £75 for their special 37 day hung Jack O’Shea butchered Cote de bouef with Béarnaise sauce for two. For those poorer folks, the restaurant does a Prix Fixe menu of £17.50 served until 7.30pm that meant the place was heaving when we arrived shortly after eight.

Dark and atmospheric, with tables set closely together, Racine captures the atmosphere of a typical French brasserie without being stuffy. For the insatiably curious, it’s perfectly possible to spend the entire evening eavesdropping on the next table’s conversation. Sadly, I’m beginning to believe that good food and bad service go hand in hand in London, and Racine did not prove to be an exception to the rule.

Mr. Smith: Racine has a very good reputation for providing mythical restaurant magic (the right balance of ambience, service and great food.) Unfortunately, not on the night Ms. Smith and I required a post-coital French feast. Indeed, the fabled French staff appeared to be on holiday the night we were there. Ms. Smith used her girlish charms to snag us the prime seats in the house. Those charms never cease to amaze me.

We settled in for a review of the menu and the well-chosen wine card (obviously very strong on French).  The wine list is perfect for the connoisseur, with an extensive selection of fine wines by the glass and the bottle, starting at £18. Two different waiters trying to sell us the high-margin bottled water and glasses of Champagne soon accosted us. No, we were happy with tap water and some fine glasses of Chablis to assist us in making our food choices. Ms. Smith spied the steak tartare, which she was keen to try, but given I am bit of connoisseur I had to insist that was my choice for a starter.

Ms. Smith opted for the Salade Landaise. The form that the salad took was not at all what we had been expecting. Instead of the anticipated heap of waxy potatoes and sliced sausage glistening under a slick of vinaigrette laced with mustard, Ms. Smith received  a stack of leaves mixed with bits of potato, black pudding, duck, shallot, anchovy and heaven knows what else. Much munching and crunching signaled her satisfaction with the French creation. For a main Ms. Smith opted for the cod. Beautifully presented and freshly hoisted from the sea. I chose the grilled rabbit which was served with a delicate mustard sauce. The rabbit was succulent and sweet, and perfectly executed with flavours that were clear and delineated. A real challenge to pull off with rabbit, it has to be said. The Gigondas we chose from the Rhone Valley complimented the robust French Regional cooking perfectly with black fruits and freshly ground peppercorn bursting on the palette.

Racine’s food gets full Mr. and Ms. Smith marks, but the overall experience was let down by sub-standard service. I suspect Racine has been riding on its former glory where it had received countless stellar reviews. What is needed is a major review of the service to bring back up to the standard that is expected at this price point. Even more galling when they charge a standard 14.5% service charge.

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