Had dinner last night at La Rascasse, right near Green Park. The area is one of London's great swaths of culinary wasteland, which has forsaken decent - never mind decently priced - food in favor of car show rooms. And La Rascasse itself is actually located in some kind of Grand Prix complex which replaces Thomas Cook. But I'd heard good things, and I wasn't disappointed.
The vast dining room - down a short set of steps - was nearly empty on a Tuesday night - is grand and beautiful. Even with triple height ceilings, thick pillars, balcony height half-moon windows, it manages to be comfortable - if not exactly cosy. Even though there are lots of hard surfaces, somehow - though maybe because it wasn't crowded - they have managed to keep the noise down. There is a private balcony room that seats six (I think) which can be reserved for a premium, and overlooks the dining room. There is also a bar downstairs, as well as a cafe bar at ground level which is going to be my new place to meet people. The staff are friendly, accommodating and eager to please. Someone must have taught them that aloof and holier than thou are 'out' and that it is not demeaning to be a waiter if you do it well.
The menu is just the right length: there are about seven or eight options per course, about 2/3 of which are fish. It is neither cheap nor outrageous by London standards: starters are between £6-10 (for foie gras if I recall correctly); mains between £15-25 (for lobster or special cut of steak); and desserts £6.
There is a tasting menu - three courses plus coffee I believe - for £19.50 which is not bad. Though I ordered à la Carte, I noticed that the tasting menu, which last night consisted of a starter choice of spring minestrone; vitello tonnato; or a salad of some kind - a main of fish; poussin with crayfish; or pasta; and a dessert of cheese; panna cotta; or something with orange flower ice cream (sorry, I didn't take notes) - was completely different from the regular Carte.
For starters, we had sea bass escabeche, a generous portion of just-cooked bass with the skin on, over baby vegetables in olive oil...and a huge raviolo-stuffed scallop. Both were very fresh and light. I then had sautéed red mullet with saffron couscous, chickpeas, raisins and harissa, which I was warned would be spicy but it wasn't. My date had lamb with borlotti (sp?) beans, which I thought would be really boring - but was a great combination that melted in the mouth. For pudding, I had a chocolate mille feuille w/orange and grapefruit salad, and he had lemon tart.
Though none of the portions were huge, I cold have stopped after the main if I didn't have such a sweet tooth. The ingredients, presentation and service top notch. Clearly they are hoping to attract a Michelin reviewer rather than a Michelin man.
The wine list is huge and all over the map, with some astonishing (likewise astonishingly priced) rare bottles. But you can find decent wines for under £30, and there are a lot by the glass. We relied on the sommelier to find a glass for each of us per course, and even though we had pretty strong flavors going, he did well. He gave us tastes of several different choices, too, which I thought was a very nice touch.
Final damage was about £60 apiece, and it would have been considerably less if we had not had three glasses each of wine. My one pet peeve is that they left the 'gratuity' line open even though gratuity is included. I hate that. But other than that I was really pleasantly suprised and impressed. Not an every day place, certainly, but a very good value special-occasion place. I think they are currently closed for lunch on weekends (and all day on Sunday), but they have a prix fixe weekday lunch and may open on Saturdays if business picks up.