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Randall & Aubin, Soho W1

Louise Elgin has a great night out at the butcher's

Its not often I dine out in an old butcher's shop, but that's exactly what Randall & Aubin is, even down to the name which hasn't been changed and the beautiful marble interior, where we ate amongst a very hip crowd last night.

Brewer Street, in the heart of bustling Soho, with its sex shops and peep shows is perhaps an unlikely venue for such a bustling brasserie. I like individuality and I certainly found it here. A refreshing change from the worrying, ever growing 'themed' Irish and American style restaurants that seem to be endlessly appearing in the West End, making it more and more anonymous.

Obviously I am not alone in my quest for a sense of individuality mixed with delicious food at a reasonable price, as on my visit, a Wednesday evening at 7.30pm, the place was absolutely packed. Funky music, played a little too loud for my taste nevertheless seemed to suit the atmosphere which, with the kitchen in full view was fast and furious.

We were made very welcome by a team of excellent, switched on staff, who even took to delivering some orders through the open window outside, the simplest way to deliver the food, so why not?! It was all a little cramped, but nobody seemed to mind!

It was an interesting and varied menu suitable for all budgets with an accent on grills and seafood - a feast for the eyes. To begin, there's a variety of soups mingled with innovative baguette sandwiches and salads, followed by everything from sausage and mash with onion gravy to caviar and oysters, including an amazing sounding platter of fruits de mer with all and sundry the sea had to offer!

I was spoilt for choice, but decided to kick off with fresh calamari with chilli dressing and rocket. This was sublime: light and flavoursome, the chilli sauce not too hot. It was a generous portion, but light enough to slip down well with the bottle of excellent house champagne we were quaffing. My companion plumped for the smoked salmon and caviar blinis, another generous helping, simple as it should be, and equally delicious. The average hors d'oeuvres price being is the £6.50 mark.

I followed this with half a roast lobster, garlic butter and pommes frites, a snip at œ11.50 and first class. I could have had a whole one for £22 but wanted to save room for pudding. My companion had an 8oz sirloin steak with pommes frites, £11.50, which was beautifully presented with a neatly seared criss-cross pattern; it was tender and succulent, altogether very tasty.

Nice intervals of time were left in between courses - I'm not a fan of places that seem keen to get you in and out in a specified time so they can get another sitting in. I like to linger over my food, without some tight lipped maitre d' looking at his watch, waiting to boot you out at the last sip of coffee.

Looking at the pudding menu I was being pulled in several directions of temptation by the feast my eyes had settled on, all priced very reasonably around the £3.50 mark. Should it be Tarte Tartin, cheesecake or lemon tart. oh the agony of decisions! I finally decided on lemon tart with creme fraiche, which was sharp, lemony and took me straight back to holidays in France. Meanwhile my companion was in rhapsody over her creme brulée, which she described as tasting of vanilla, creamy of texture, with a perfect caramelised topping. These were both served with a good dollop of creme fraiche.

This is a great place to meet friends, last orders are 11pm so it would also fit with a late post theatre bite. Its somewhere to meet where a fun atmosphere seems guaranteed and have a innovative, reasonably priced snack, or if the mood takes you, there's champagne and seafood to chill out to.

Louise Elgin - June 2000

Randall & Aubin
16 Brewer Street, Soho W1
Tel: 020 7287 4447

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