Randall & Aubin Manchester could be positioned precariously. Manchester’s buzzing restaurant scene isn’t known for good seafood. Better known for endless curry houses, well-rooted Chinese restaurants and growing East Asian influences of every flavour. Global brands of all persuasions, loaded burgers, smokey meat feasts, craft beer, real ale and emerging vegan spots call Manchester home. When it comes to classic, French-inspired yet British lead, dare I say it, classy brasseries, there ain’t many.
Does this mean Mancunians don’t have a taste for the seafood not in batter, or will Randall & Aubin shine from a relative lack of competition in their market place? Anyway, when walking up Bridge Street, Randall & Aubin’s smart frontage, loaded with displays of alive looking crustaceans and monsters of the sea, piqued my interest.
Randall & Aubin Manchester is the young cousin of the well-established Soho site, and both venues have a real urbane old-school vibe. The vintage presentation of the menus, branded boxes of white-headed matches and a very solid French wine list gave a certain faded glamour.
The oysters were banging, the highlight of Randall & Aubin Manchester. Cold, salty blasts of sea air were launched down, providing memorable bursts of sharp flavour. These little treasures were lubricated by excellent (and on offer) English sparkling wine. Diners choose between French, English, Irish, Rock, Native or a mixture – the helpful server enlightened me on the differences. The English ones, Jersey specifically, where recommended for the uninitiated. The oysters promised even greater things to come, but perhaps the lack of preparation required overstated the promise of the trickier dishes that followed.
Prawn cocktail was the Mrs’ starter, whom immediately upon comparison regretted it. Plenty of good meaty prawns, crisp salad, flavourful sauce, but too much of it, and a faff to eat – what your Grandma knocks up at Christmas. Other starters included a fabulous fish soup, piping hot, featuring a stunning rouille. Despite being the more premium dish, the scallops were not only underwhelmingly small, but gritty.
Mains at Randall & Aubin Manchester were good but not without fault. A weighty tuna steak was let down by being under-seared and under-seasoned, the only two things required, although was rare as requested. A personal preference, but lukewarm tuna with feta wasn’t a winning combination for me. That said, the vegetables were neatly prepped and the quality of cheese and oregano tapenade was outstanding.
The Randall & Aubin Lobster Po-Boy was a waste of time. Against my better judgement, I ignored the red flag of “lobster” and “deep fried” in the same sentence but was seduced by having such a premium product at a reasonable £15.50. By the time the lobster had made its way through the batter, brioche and coleslaw it may as well have been prawn, and ironically seemed expensive.
Bouillabaisse – a dish I love – was an entirely terracotta affair, lacking in parley or anything to bring the dish to life, although traditional in presentation. The contents were meaty, fresh, lightly cooked but criminally under-seasoned. Smooth and viscous aoili helped, and crutons added texture.
At the time of writing, the cheapest bottle of wine at Randall & Aubin Manchester, excluding half-bottles and service charge, was a Western Cape Cinsault by Boutinot or a 2017 Pays d’Oc Vermentino by Vieilles Vinges both at an approachable £22. Conversely, the most expensive bottle of wine, excluding magnums and service charge, was a 2009 Dom Perignon Champagne at £180. Considering that wine retails for around £140, the mark up isn’t outrageous – perhaps worth keeping in mind if you’re looking for top end stuff.
Randall & Aubin Review Score
Randall & Aubin’s menu is dominated by high-quality seafood from around the British Isles. There’s fancy Orkney scallops, English & Irish oysters, Dorset crab and Peterhead cod. Lobster keeps popping up, but more modest whelks, clams, cockles and shrimp do to. That said, it wasn’t all executed as the polished environment and service suggested.
Atmosphere 9 Cost 7 Quality 7 Service 9