Bouchon Racine

66 Cowcross Street

London EC1M 6BP


The Food:

White asparagus with Périgord truffles and Noir de Bigorre

Calf’s brain with black butter and capers

Burgundy snails

Chicken liver pate with cornichons

Rabbit with mustard sauce and bacon

Best end of veal with morels and pomme mousseline

Pear and almond tart

Crème caramel

The Wines:

1985 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 93
1998 Bollinger Blanc de Noirs Vieilles Vignes Françaises 93
2010 R. Lopez de Heredia Rosado Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia  94
2021 Rall Wines Syrah Noa (Cape Winemakers Guild) 94
1970 Ausone 94

Who doesn’t get a frisson of excitement bagging a table at the hottest ticket in town? I don’t obsess about it. I prefer to let restaurants settle in, and when the time comes to visit, I will. However, I must confess that since opening last year, I’ve silently clamored to get my feet under the table at Bouchon Racines after friends’ eulogies left me drooling. Unfortunately, just about every other person with functioning tastebuds has the same desire, which explains why it’s easier to get a seat in the House of Lords than one at Bouchon Racine. Thankfully, a friend and acquaintance of chef patron Harry Harris managed to secure a table. A few weeks later, I clamber up the staircase above the bustling The Three Compasses pub in Farringdon. With each step, the scents wafting down become more intoxicating, a tractor beam that seems to make my body weightless as I float upstairs. I’m drooling before I’ve sat down.  

Left: The Bouchon Racine menu. Right: Chef Harry Harris coming to our table to check that we are enjoying the food. We are.

Bouchon Racine is an homage to classic French dining, ‘bouchon’, the local term for bistros in Lyon. We’re talking nose-to-tail eating, where every part of whatever animal has been bashed on the head is served on the plate. No fancy foams or exotic ingredients, no artsy-fartsy presentation. Harris is a bit of a legend around town, having worked with Simon Hopkinson when Bibendum was in its pomp and then establishing his bistro, Racine. Harris entered an itinerant period when that closed before teaming up with David Strauss to open Bouchon Racine. It’s a slice of Lyon in the heart of London. The interior is dimly lit, with wooden paneled walls, an inviting glass-roofed conservatory at the front and that day’s menu scrawled on a blackboard. There’s a casual and relaxed vibe, a refreshing lack of pretension. The waiting staff, all seemingly half my age, are friendly and chatty. Surveying the room, every diner wears an expression of someone who’s won the lottery, except the gentleman at a neighboring table dining alone and reading a novel via a clip-on miniature lamp. Very cool.

If you’re a vegetarian contemplating coming to Bouchon Racine because nowadays even the most carnivorous places cater to those wishing not to eat something that once lived…book somewhere else. Yes, there are one or two meat-free dishes, but the menu makes no apologies for the slim selection. On this evening, we ask Harris to choose the dishes except the first.  

White asparagus with Périgord truffles and Noir de Bigorre

Naturally, expectations are high, but honestly, the dinner gets off to a stuttering start. The waiter recommends white asparagus with Périgord truffles and Noir de Bigorre since mid-March is the only time of year when you can combine seasonal white asparagus and truffles. However, the asparagus lacks a bit of flavor and is not quite as soft as I find them in Bordeaux come April. For want of a better word, they are a bit bland. The next dish is slightly better: calf’s brain with black butter and capers that have a lovely texture, though it does not ignite a flurry of superlatives and just looks a bit “messy”.

Burgundy snails

That all changes with the chicken liver pate with cornichons. This is what we had come for. Bring it on! Incredibly intense in flavor with a perfect texture, it instantly becomes the benchmark against which all future chicken liver pâtés will be judged and fail. Stunning. The half-dozen Burgundy snails are as good as any I have eaten in the Côte d’Or. I duly mop up the garlic and parsley sauce with a ripped-off chunk of bread.

Rabbit with mustard sauce and bacon

Next, the rabbit with mustard sauce and bacon that, to a casual observer, looks a bit like a leg of chicken. No, this is definitely Bugs Bunny. It has a wonderful purity of flavor, while the mustard politely remains in the background so as not to overwhelm the nuances of the meat. The crispy bacon balances on top, lending saltiness. The sauce itself has just the right amount of tang, politely not overawing the rabbit.

Best end of veal with morels and pomme mousseline

The highlight of the meal arrives with a huge plate of the best end of veal chaperoned by morels in a pomme mousseline. Yes, yes, yes. This is heavenly. The veal is beautifully cooked and waltzes in perfect harmony with the generous helping of morels, the mousseline imparting subtle sweetness. It’s dishes like this that explain why getting a reservation is damn near impossible.

Pear and almond tart

Finally, I opt for a pear and almond tart and Harris insists on a crème caramel. Both are excellent, though we are still starry-eyed over the previous main courses.

The wine list is printed on either side of an A4 sheet of paper, with a fairly eclectic selection from the Old and New World plus a smattering of blue chips. Prices are not cheap, but where are they these days? We had pre-arranged to take our own fermented grape juice and pay corkage, though only because of our acquaintance with the proprietor.

We commence with two champagnes. The 1985 Comtes de Champagne Rosé from Taittinger is superb. Burnished in hue, it has a potent, slightly oxidative bouquet with strawberry, grilled walnut, smoke and nougat. It’s quite arresting but utterly compelling. As you would expect, the palate is fully mature, underpinned by a brisk line of acidity. There is fine depth to this Sparkling Rosé, an arresting tang towards the finish with touches of nectarine and orange pith, all wrapped up with subtle strawberry notes. Uncompromisingly wonderful. The 1998 Blanc de Noirs Vieilles Vignes Françaises from Bollinger is à point. With grilled hazelnuts and light fumé notes on the nose, this is restrained at first but lets it rip given an hour in the glass. The palate has a compelling earthiness that is matched by an almost clinical line of acidity, deepening towards the finish that offers kernels of pine nuts and bitter lemon. It is not as complex or elegant as the millennial VVF but represents an intellectual sparkler.

It's not often one attends a dinner with a Rosé, but you always make an exception for one of Spain’s finest producers. The 2010 Rosado Gran Reserva Viña Tondonia from R. Lopez de Heredia is an absolute gem. Matured for four years in American oak, it has an ethereal bouquet with hints of wild strawberry, crème fraiche, garrigues and lanolin. It is very complex compared to just about any other Rosé you could think of. The palate is crisp and pure, dancing on the tongue with real intensity. There’s a paradoxical weight, yet it feels like it’s walking on tiptoes, gently fanning out on the finish that has a touch of viscosity. The 2021 Noa Syrah from Rall Wines is Donovan Rall’s contribution to the Cape Winemakers Guild auction. I reviewed its Chenin counterpart in a previous report from South Africa. This is just as good: precocious blueberry and blackcurrant scents appear on the pure and seductive nose. It develops winsome floral aromas in the glass. The palate is primal with a touch of cassis, a perfect line of acidity and a velvety finish that has the bite to attract you back. It’s only just beginning to open, and personally, I’d afford it three or four more years.

The 1970 Ausone is a revelation. I have drunk two bottles of this before, and as a cursory glance at the Vinous database shows, it pales against recent vintages, which is unsurprising given that this was not a golden era. At the time, the property was owned by Jean and Héylette Dubois, the former suffering long bouts of illness and their régisseur prone to excessively long durations in barrel. This is a completely different kettle of fish, practically a different wine to previous encounters. With a classic mature Right Bank nose, it is reminiscent of Cheval Blanc with intense black fruit, loam and cigar humidor aromas, all beautifully defined. The palate has exquisite balance and effortless flair, linear like the previous bottle, yet with so much more fruit. Were there multiple bottlings? I can’t think what else could explain its superiority for a wine that, lest we forget, a desultory 69 points from Robert Parker that was purportedly “drying out” back in 1987!

Thanks to my connected friend, it had been a splendid evening at Bouchon Racine. I can now tick it off my list, though I would love to return. It is a restaurant that creates its own world, almost hermetically sealed off from the rest of London, so you soon forget you’re not actually in a riverside Lyon bistro but above a pub in central London. I fully understand why there’s a long queue of people desperate to grab a table, yet it’s far from the archetypal Michelin-starred restaurant. There’s a happy-go-lucky feel about the place that is quite contagious. While not every dish receives10/10, the highlights are memorable. Apart from St John, few places deliver nose-to-tail eating with such chutzpah.

I’ll be back…

One day.

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