Racine offers very reliable French bistro cooking, so expect to see dishes like fish soup and steak tartare on the menu here. Starters were priced at £7 - £14.75, main courses £16.50 to £28.50, with vegetables extra at £3.75 a dish. There is a set lunch (and early dinner up to 7:30 p.m.) at £17.75. The cote du boeuf (though not the other meat) is from O’Sheas of Knightsbridge, London’s best butcher, so given this care with suppliers I am a little surprised that they use Delice de France as the bread supplier; the baguette slices were fine (13/20), but there are better bread suppliers. The waiter amusingly said that the bread was “imported from France” when as far as I was aware Delice de France is located in the marginally less exotic location of a factory in Southall. I suppose “specially trucked in from Southall” does not have quite the same Gallic ring to it.
The wine list had around 150 choices, just under two thirds from France, ranging in price from £12.85 to £750, with a median price of £57. Mark-up levels average 3.2 times retail, which is quite high, although Knightsbridge is hardly a cheap area. Example wines included Sebastiani Zinfandel, Sonoma 2009 at £37.50 for a wine that in the high street costs about £12, Hermitage, Marquise de la Tourette, Delas 2008 at £85 for a wine that retails at £32 and Vosne-Romanée "Les Hautes Maizières", Domaine Robert Arnoux 2007 at £147 for a wine you can find for around £52 in the shops.
Salad of smoked Lincolnshire eel with beetroot, horseradish and apple (£13.50) was a well-designed dish, the shredded beetroot and the acidity of the apple balancing the eel nicely, the horseradish giving just enough kick but not overwhelming the other flavours (14/20). Grilled rabbit with bacon and mustard sauce (£17.75) was also carefully prepared, the rabbit cooked properly, the mustard sauce lifting the dish, the accompanying green beans carefully cooked, with the bacon adding an extra flavour dimension (15/20). The bill for two courses came to £44 a head just with water to drink. Service was polite but cursory; at the beginning even getting a menu required some effort. Overall, Racine reliably delivers the French bistro experience.
The notes below are from August 2007.
Henry Harris, who trained with the gifted Simon Hopkinson, is the long-standing head chef at Racine, which in 2012 notched up its tenth anniversary, a milestone that not many restaurants manage. I first visited Racine soon after it opened, and had a rather disappointing meal with one memorable service experience. A portion of chips arrived so overcooked that the chips were literally black in places. I asked for a fresh portion and the waiter responded an an imperious French accent: "Ah, the chips are as good as we can make them; it is impossible to get decent potatoes in England". This will go down as one of the all time great restaurant lines in my book. After that I avoided the place, but not being one to bear a grudge (at least not for more than a few years) I decided to try it one more time based on a recommendation from someone I trust completely on food.
I'm glad that I did, as in August 2007 there were no such problems. The dining room is quite cosy, split into a main, fairly modern room and a quiet back room with half a dozen tables that looks as if they forgot to redecorate it from a bygone age (yellow wallpaper, small framed black and white photographs, the image of a bistro). Bread is just slices of baguette, and very pleasant it is. There are no fripperies like amuse-bouche: this is very much a bistro, and the menu is almost painfully traditional in places. This extends to the wine list, which is all French and although it is nice to see some choices under £20 the growers chosen are mostly obscure, and regional coverage is variable e.g. there were just two wines from Alsace, neither of them memorable. Service was pleasant if rather eccentric; our waiter seemed rather forgetful throughout the evening, as if his mind was elsewhere. Still, at least the wine was left within reach (a good thing since topping up was, to say the least, a sporadic affair).
A fish soup with aoili and croutons is about as classic French bistro as it comes, and this was a pleasant surprise for me. Often such things, even in Paris, are lazy affairs where the cheapest fish has been used to concoct a watery, orange concoction that is very profitable for the restaurant. Here the soup was actually quite thick in texture and had plenty of robust fishy flavour, while the aoili was nicely made (14/20). This was better than a goat cheese salad, which had very pleasant warm goat cheese but rather ordinary salad leaves (12/20).
For the main course John Dory was served with a few pieces of cherry tomato and a sauce vierge, garnished with chopped herbs. John Dory is an excellent fish, and it was cooked correctly here, though the sauce vierge was a little on the insipid side for me (13/20). Better was a pair of whole quail served on the bone and resting in the cooking juices. The bird was cooked through very nicely and was still moist and tender. The dish could have done with some green vegetables but it is hard to criticise the quail (14/20). A side order of chips had to be tried after my previous experience, and they were fine, perhaps not as crispy as ideal, but fine. Presumably in the years that have passed since my first visit here they have somehow found that apparently rare thing in England, a decent potato.
Desserts were the highlight. I had a simple but well made vanilla ice cream with a Valrhona chocolate sauce (14/20) while my wife's Creme Caramel was actually very good indeed, the texture just right when so often this dish is poorly executed (15/20). Coffee was fine if unexceptional, and there were no petit fours. Overall this is a very pleasant bistro which actually cooks better than some of the current trendy set of modern bistros that have sprung up in London in the last year. Prices are tolerable.