london 18.520

Bouchon Racine

Clerkenwell, EC1M

Those of us who remember the original Racine, Henry Harris’s much-loved restaurant on the Brompton Road which closed in 2015, still have the occasional Proustian twinge of nostalgia when seeing Côte de Boeuf on someone else’s menu, or as our spoon hovers over another chef’s crème caramel.

Harris came close to bringing back Racine through a number of projects with pubs (including The Coach in Clerkenwell) where rustic dishes such as Bayonne ham and celeriac remoulade made a reappearance, but none of these venues were truly his.

Then in October 2022 came the announcement of Racine reborn, as Bouchon Racine above The Three Compasses in Farringdon (in the space formerly occupied by The Thai Princess). The inimitable Henry Harris would be back in the kitchen with ex-Goodman and Rockfish restaurant director Dave Strauss running the floor as co-owner. Foodie social media thrummed with excitement as Harris shared details of the refurbishment, including the arrival of original signage from Racine and the opening menu, written on a blackboard.

Consequently, the opening week found me heading through Bouchon Racine’s red door, climbing the staircase and entering the dining room with a real sense of anticipation. The room is charming: painted panelling with a scattering of framed prints and porcelain, subdued lighting, lovely old radiators and wooden floorboards. It has a welcoming, relaxed elegance. It is as unaffected as The French House and as cosy as Brutto; it feels as if it has been here forever. I was led to a table on a small enclosed balcony with windows along the street, which will be even more glorious in summer. (I have favourite tables in a handful of my most beloved restaurants and have already added this one to the list.)

This is a first-class education in French cookery and the joy of feeding people well

My affable waiter Andy brought the menu blackboard over to my table and talked me through the menu with knowledge, confidence and a welcome lack of pretension. The only problem was that the more he explained the Rex Goldsmith-sourced cod, the Bayonne ham, the steak tartare and the ungodly amount of butter in the sauces, the more I wanted the lot. As soon as I thought I had decided, another dish caught my eye and I was paralysed by FOMO.

Eventually, I decided to start with the chicken liver pâté. Please set aside all thoughts of that pink and decorous version in a little pot topped with melted butter, served with neat triangles of toast. Henry Harris’s chicken liver pâté is the absolute opposite. It comes as a generously hefty slab: textured and gloriously flavourful, served with a hunk of baguette and scattered with cornichons to cut through the richness.

The pâté was big and earthy enough to square up well against a light red but I’d already ordered a glass of the house white; I find house wines often provide useful insight into a restaurant. This was a suitably versatile 2021 Luberon Blanc, very fairly priced at just over £6 a glass. In fact, the whole wine list is very accessible, if a little young: around a third of the whites and a handful of reds come in at under £35 a bottle, with a good selection available by the glass. As for cocktails, Martinis weren’t available at the time of this visit but, pleasingly, they explained that they don’t want to serve these until they’ve “got them exactly right”. There are, however, some other lovely aperitifs such as a “Bicyclette” (Campari and white wine) and you can get a Negroni for £8 in the pub downstairs.

For my main course, I ordered a Henry Harris classic: rabbit with bacon and mustard sauce, plus a side of chips for mopping. It’s a truly beautiful dish, in every sense of the word. Simply but stunningly plated, with crispy-skinned, tender rabbit topped with smoked bacon on a handful of green beans, each element cooked precisely. Then the sauce: glossy, punchy, expertly balanced, delicious. This is a first-class education in French cookery and the joy of feeding people well. Thank god for the chips: they were all that stopped me from licking the plate. Dave Strauss confided that about half of the diners there had ordered the rabbit which, as the room seemed evenly split between industry players and loyal customers from the original Racine, wasn’t surprising (though one wonders how popular the andouillette will be). Henry himself was regularly bringing dishes out and greeting diners, which was not only a welcome personal touch but probably helped fuel the long stints in the kitchen.

I finished with another iconic Racine dish, the crème caramel. Silkily seductive and utterly irresistible, this is not only one of the best desserts in London, it’s one of the most reasonable at a ridiculous £6.50. It is unimprovable, unless of course you count the optional side of Armagnac-soaked prunes which still brings the dish in at under a tenner. I don’t really do desserts but I am planning on ordering this every single time I go.

Although, I’ve already been back twice (as has Palate’s editor) and so can also absolutely recommend the egg mayonnaise and Cantabrian anchovies. Fudgy-yolked eggs swathed in rich, creamy mayonnaise, each topped with a glistening swirl of anchovy fillet and a whisper of paprika, accompanied by a slice of toasted baguette with taramasalata. I ordered this with a side of chips, which may sound a little bit drive-through but was (Dave Strauss agreed) a moment of inspiration, in terms of texture, temperature and flavour. The only downside was that, as with the mustard sauce on my previous visit, I wiped the plate clean with them and subsequently struggled to finish my main, let alone a dessert. Ah well, I clearly need another visit. As Samuel Beckett said, ‘No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’.

Bouchon Racine
Food & Drink5.56
about our grading system

66 Cowcross Street

January 2023


You Might Also Like