Jonathan Schofield pops on his horned helmet and attacks seafood on Bridge Street
There’s a dead Saxon marauder in me, or a Viking berserker. No, really. I went to Randall & Aubin wearing a helmet with horns coming out of the sides seeking dismemberment and murder. I was very much looking forward to it.
Lobster, crab, oysters, prawns, mussels, clams, whelks. Rend them, break them, cut out the soft parts. Maybe add some lemon. This is smash and grab food. In terms of pure enjoyment there is nothing to beat the physicality of a seafood experience. Give it a sharp Muscadet La Griffe, in this case at £29, and it’s a rare and particular joy.
Normally I talk a lot over a dinner. I can’t stand meals of cutlery tinkling atmospherics and stilted dialogue. I swear I once heard this conversation in a Michelin one starred country house hotel in the Lakes. “Is it nice?” (Pause) “Very nice?” (Pause) “Good.” (Pause) “Yours?” (Pause) “Nice.” (Pause) “Shall I burn the house down when we get home?” (Pause) “That’d be nice.”
Seafood is the one meal that can quieten me. Getting your tool into a whelk, so to speak, and extracting the joy within can require silence and determination. Maybe a furrowed brow. The odd curse. Cracking a lobster claw to retrieve the most delicate and curiously textured flesh in nature’s larder is again a task calling out for respect to the beast and basic craft skills.
During this visit to Randall & Aubin I had the assiette de fruits de mer for £25. This jogs to the table with combinations of seafood including crab, oysters, prawns, mussels, clams, whelks, cockles, scallops and so forth. It was an absolute delight, reeking of the sea. All of it was good. Splash of lemon as stated but really nothing else needed, certainly not the mystifying horseradish sauce. “Some people like it with the seafood,” said the waitress, before adding, “I have no idea why.”
A regular pop-in favourite of mine is the dressed Dorset crab with greens and an appealing potato salad (£17.75). It’s a cold yet exquisite dish. The dark flesh is rich, the white flesh is zesty and the combination delivers a sort of effervescence.
Other dishes included a really good, if pricey, sea bass fillet (£21.50) helped by the spinach and garlic but really brought to life by a refined aubergine purée. A lightly battered calamari frites (£7.50) was better than the usual tortured boredom of the standard fried-to-death calamari plate. The salsa and the lift of the coriander and lime improved matters.
There’s plenty of meat on the menu. This being a review, one of our number drew the short straw and had the spit-roasted Suffolk leg of lamb (£16.75), apricot stuffed and served with mash and some scary-looking roasted onions. It was excellent, the apricot complementing the lamb beautifully. Despite that, the meat is really a sideshow. The fish is the thing.
We had three desserts. The first two, the crème brulee and sticky date pudding were expensive at £8 each. The crème brulee was fine, the richness of the date pudding easily made it the better of those two choices.
Meanwhile, I had a pudding of grilled Manx queenie scallops for £8.95, because I just couldn’t stop it with the fish. Lush, they were, lush.
This is a handsome restaurant, from front to back, starting with an iced-seafood window display on Bridge Street. There’s a tall stool counter area where you can watch the chefs at work and more generous seating towards the rear, including some odd paired chairs which squash couples together uncomfortably.
There are a couple of things I’d change at Randall & Aubin.
COULD THE MANAGEMENT TURN THE BLOODY MUSIC DOWN A BIT. I WAS SAT IN A CORNER AND SOME DANCE NONSENSE WAS CURDLING MY QUEENIE SCALLOPS. ARE THE MANAGEMENT TRYING TO CATCH UP ON LOST YOUTH OR HAVE THEY A HEARING PROBLEM? OCCASIONALLY IT SEEMS CHILDISH AND DESPERATE.
The other no-no is that ghastly London avarice of a 12.5% service charge. There is no need to impose that on guests. Yes, of course, we can refuse it, but if the service has been good then we won’t because it would make us, the customer, look nasty. I always exceed 10% for good service but I like to make that call myself.
The service, by the way, from the front of house through to the table waiting has been consistently high on my visits.
Randall & Aubin fulfils my animal desire to get to grips with my prey, in this case seafood. The city centre has been crying out for such a place for years. So far (despite some prices which should probably be a few quid cheaper), it has been busy. And this is the quietest time of the year.
Dear Mr Lobster, it appears my horned helmet might get a few more trips out.
Randall & Aubin, 64 Bridge Street, Manchester, M3 3BN. Tel: 0161 711 1007
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself
(calamari 7, queenie scallops 8, lamb 7, seabass 7.5, assiette 8, crème brulee 7, date pudding 7.5)
Good people watching but please turn that music down
Sharp and with a smile