Recently, I created a recipe for Cackalacky BBQ sauce (on a roast rib of beef) as my entry into a recipe challenge laid down by Grey Poupon mustard. Though I first learned of Cackalacky in a book I'd been sent to review, I didn't fancy the author's recipe for the sauce, so I did some research and created my own, amalgamating aspects from several different recipes I came across on the web.
The result was delicious, if I say so myself, and I was very pleased with my post. To my delight, I won the competition, and I was happy to accept the prize of dinner for two at Henry Harris' Racine Restaurant, in Knightsbridge.
Definitely une grande bouffe moment, Pete and I ate and drank extremely well and were utterly stuffed with Henry's fabulous, classic Bourgeois French cooking. Thank you Henry, the Racine team and Grey Poupon, for a wonderful evening.
We were welcomed with glasses of pousse rapière, a cocktail of Cointreau and sparkling wine, with a garnish of orange peel. Refreshing, with a pleasant hint of sweetness from the Cointreau, I much preferred this to a glass of plain bubbly.
With our aperitif, we enjoyed the sélection de charcuterie de Noir de Bigorre, a plate of jambon, ventrèche and saucisson from the Pyrenean black pig. Served with crunchy walnuts and some fruit jelly, the fatty meats were a very fine start.
Next, we were both served a warm garlic and saffron mousse with mussels. The mousse was impossibly light, and cleverly brought out the flavour of saffron without the muddy aspect that can so often creep in. The mussels were plump, meaty and sweet. The garlicky sauce was delicious, and every last drop was mopped up with fabulous white bread and French beurre Échiré.
The sommelier chose our wines, by the glass. Reds from the Rhone valley and St Emilion matched Pete's starter and main. A light, fruity, flowery Moscatel was a perfect match for my crab starter, light enough not to overwhelm. With my steak, I had a glass of Sauternes, not traditional but I really loved it. With desserts, we had delicious, ruby red Maury.
Pete's seared foie gras, caramelised apple and Calvados was beautiful, generous and very delicious. Served on a brioche eggy bread (or should that be pain perdu, in a French restaurant?) and with a dollop of rich, caramelised apple it was a perfect dish.
My crab salad, herb omelette and horseradish was also superb; light, sweet, fresh white crab meat with strands of herb-flecked omelette and a large dollop of crème fraiche with horseradish added up to a lighter starter without any loss of flavour.
What stood out about the roast wood pigeon, chanterelles and rosemary was the perfect cooking of the pigeon that kept it tender, succulent and packed with meaty taste. This dish was wonderfully comforting and satisfying.
I very seldom order a fillet steak, as I prefer the more robust flavours of other cuts. But I know Henry is fastidious when it comes to sourcing his meat, and that his Béarnaise sauce is a thing of beauty and I was certainly not disappointed with my filet au sauce Béarnaise. The meat was, as you'd imagine from a fillet, incredibly soft but had so much more beefy flavour than is often the case and the Béarnaise was spot on. The steak was served with decent medium-sized chips – though I hankered after thinner frites allumettes (matchstick fries) – and a lovely salad dressed with finely diced shallots and a simple dressing. This was everything a green side salad should be, and immediately transported me to France, even more so than the rest of the meal.
In France, Pete often orders the Coup Colonel – a simple dessert of lemon sorbet with chilled vodka. Here it's listed simply as Colonel. The lemon sorbet was too tart for me (as is usually the case) but Pete deemed it just right, though he did feel there was far too much sorbet for the amount of vodka.
My dessert of chocolate terrine with pistachio crème anglaise was rich and decadent! The slab of chocolate terrine was solid, with just the right amount of give, and made with good quality chocolate. The pistachio custard was a little lost against the chocolate, but eaten on its own, the flavour was clear. But for me, the best things on the plate were the candied pistachios – top quality pistachio nuts cooked in a sugar syrup and used as a garnish. I could have eaten an entire bowl of them, though it's probably as well that I didn't!
As I don't like strong coffee (and find many coffees others like too bitter for me) it's always great to be served a coffee that I unreservedly enjoy. Full flavoured but without the astringency, this cup was just what we needed at the end of the meal and to fortify us as we headed back out into the cold – very, very cold – night.
Our journey wasn't helped by our local tube line being closed for weekend engineering works (yet again). The 15 minute wait for a bus on the way home, in temperatures several degrees below zero, definitely didn't make me happy nor did the sheer time it took, both ways. But the meal we enjoyed was so good, in the end, the journey just didn't matter.
The only thing that would make Racine even better would be to transplant it, lock, stock and barrel, up to our neck of the woods in North London!