“I WAS wrong about the lobster. It’s not from Devon but from Cornwall… you would still like?” asks our server Maria. Of course and I don’t mind one jot that my Devin crab might have come from from Dorset on this occasion. At Randall & Aubin today lunch is a driftable feast, to adapt Hemingway.
It’s not the season for native oysters and such has been the Manc frenzy for bivalves (900 consumed across the Bridge Street brasserie’s opening weekend) that they can’t offer us any French ones. So we make do with eight mixed rock oysters from Jersey and Ireland, an accompanying caper and horseradish butter exquisite, resisting the temptation to partake of their signature Plats de Fruit de Mer (min two persons, £42 each), bound to take the exemplary sourcing even further afield.
Heavenly too the match with a prickly crisp, minerally Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine sur Lie, ‘La Griffe’. A Negroni from a fine Martini-driven cocktail list had already cleared the palate nicely and now we have been seated at a high marble-topped table feeling as expansive as the setting. Just one gleaming floor with plenty of space to breathe and gossip. This has all the makings of a Manc meeting place.
The crab starter is a fine tangle of white meat on a base of mingling brown meat and soft avocado. Two tiny prawns on top add little, but it’s worth the £10.50 price.
Across the table, exemplary, dense fish soup, as you’d expect from an outfit perceived as a seafood destination despite a promise there’ll be more rotisserie-led meatiness than in the Soho original.
Certainly that’s why I’m here, stealing mouthfuls of that soup, a bargain at £6.85, perked by a sharp roux, strings of Comte cheese sticking in my beard as I guzzle.
Now for that lobster, a superior beast to all those tasteless frozen Canadian cousins shipped in en masse for the mugs. OK, trying to quell greed, I have asked for just a half of the roasted one with garlic butter and (splendidly seasoned) frites. At 325g it costs £21 as opposed to £38 for the 750g whole crustacean and is packed with sweet juicy flesh. A side of heritage tomato salad was superfluous really, but here was real acidity in the toms, thoughtfully matched with creamy blue cheese and lots of basil.
]Line caught tuna, cooked pink with Med veg, oregano tapenade and feta cheese is another simple composition, like the brasserie-style salads, where the same tuna contributes to a classic Nicoise. Culinary innovation plays no part. This is well-honed comfort food writ large. Nothing wrong with that. In other hands – we won’t name the guilty chains – such dishes as moules marinieres and crab cakes are often just drearily ticking menu boxes. Service, too, is in a different league here.
It’s now up to this Randall & Aubin to maintain the sourcing and standards under experienced head chef Brian Hughson (a Northerner back from exile). Puddings were more perfunctory, my lemon tart more attractive than my companion’s dull cheesecake.
Give the meat grill a chance? We plan to check out the steak bavette and rotisserie chicken some time soon. Probably when the native oysters are harvested, obviously. We may get stampeded in the rush.
Randall and Aubin, 64 Bridge St, Manchester M3. 0161 711 1007.