Dates, as we all know, can veer from the appalling to the sublime and back, sometimes in the course of a single evening. Personally, I always found the whole thing very unnerving, which usually meant talking like a typewriter and failing to impress – my favourite type of date used to involve drinking too much and hoping that eventually one of you fell on top of the other. I’m engaged now, which used to mean you were excused the whole business, but when you work away as much as I do, it is considered impolite to always sit on the sofa scratching yourself on nights off. As a result I am expected to involve myself in ‘date nights,’ sometimes as often as twice a quarter. There are other date expectations – for instance, that it doesn’t get written up as a blog and posted online, but then these are the pitfalls of agreeing to marry a comedian.
Knightsbridge is of course a ridiculous place, especially for dinner, but thanks to Toptable, I had been granted a visa. I like Toptable, (even though I’ve just discovered they’ve changed their name to Opentable for no apparent reason.) I’m sure I shouldn’t, although I’m not sure why. I think it’s something to do with buying into all this bollocks about exclusivity and privilege, but as all they’ve ever really done for me is provide an opportunity to eat in very good restaurants at reasonable prices, I’ll keep on checking the emails. I had heard many good things about Racine (although it appears a lot when you Google ‘tête de veau’ which previous readers will realise strikes fear into my very soul,) and four courses and an aperitif for £35 sounded like excellent value.
The restaurant was quiet as we entered through the large leather curtain that stops anyone untoward looking in, and we were warmly welcomed to a very comfortable and spacious corner table in order to admire the rest of the leather in the room. They give good banquette at Racine, which is probably why it started filling up with a merry and very well heeled clientele as the evening progressed. As neither of us were drinking, a choice of non-alcoholic aperitifs were offered and I am now going to start making my own virgin mojitos because they are bloody nice. Menus were proffered, orders taken, and then everyone realized we’d been given the wrong menus, and new ones were bought, but this time with extra things on them. When the only cock up of an entire meal is friendly staff bringing you additional options, it’s safe to assume you’ve had a good time.
I started with Crab Florentine – a gorgeously rich sausage of pasta stuffed with white crab meat (and one tiny piece of shell, but I’m regarding that as proof of freshness) and spinach with a properly opulent béchamel and crab sauce zig-zagged along its back, dusted with a little paprika. This had the unusual ability to convince you it was good for you despite the fact it clearly wasn’t. Meanwhile, melted raclette Comtoise with cornichons salad was a winning combination of luxuriously melted cheese and sharp pickle, smacking you round the chops ‘like a posh ploughmans,’ in the words of the other half.
For main course, she had a grilled featherblade steak, perfectly bloody and oozing Roquefort and walnut butter. It was sensational, as was my rabbit on a bed of green beans, which retained just the requisite crunch and a mustard sauce for which the word ‘pokey’ might have been invented. On top was a shard of smoked bacon, which was (I’m quoting again) ‘immense’. My only problem was that it really didn’t seem to be the sort of place to pick up the bones and gnaw. Service was so gracious I doubt they’d have minded, but apparently you don’t do things like that on date night.
There was a cheese course, which is the sort of sentence that makes me enormously happy, as does the fact they came from the legendary La Fromagerie. A further indication of the quality of service was the maître d’ writing down the names of the mellow blue cheese and Chablis washed rind oozy number for me precisely so that I could mislay the piece of paper.
Dessert was spectacular, in an understated and very classy way. Which is more than could be said for either of us as we had both of given up sugar for the previous ten days, and began salivating like Pavlov’s dogs at the very idea. I don’t imagine we presented a particularly attractive picture to anyone else, but this was fabulous. The crème caramel at Racine appears to be made with crack. It was easily the best I have ever tasted – almost creamy like pannacotta, but with the richness of egg and the slightly bitter hit of caramel. Meanwhile, a petit pot au chocolate is best remembered with the words,
“I’m really happy right now. I don’t want this to end”.
It would have been nice if she was talking about the date, but we both knew it was the chocolate. But I’ll take it, and if you want to take anyone anywhere, on this showing I would thoroughly recommend Racine, especially if you get the deal we did, which was a steal. As is a 14.5% ‘optional’ service charge, but then this wouldn’t be Knightsbridge without it, and unusually for this part of the world, they were worth every penny.