The Butcher’s Arms, Racine, Rules and St John

Autumn’s nip is kept at bay by superb offal served in settings that exude warmth and bonhomie

Racine restaurant
Racine restaurant | Image: Simon Brown

Now there is a distinct chill in the air, the Gannet’s thoughts turn to the more comforting end of the food spectrum. Grouse, for instance: not too gamey, so that the scent of honey and heather still lingers in its blushing pink meat.

I may well beat a path to Rules in Covent Garden, where there is always a fine game menu – much of it shot on owner John Mayhew’s estate in the High Pennines – served in just the sort of reassuringly plush dining room for which the season calls.

Racine restaurant
Racine restaurant | Image: Simon Brown

Rules also serves a splendid steamed steak-and-kidney pudding, which brings me to another comfort food that I hanker for at this time of year: offal. Once derided as food for the poor – well, apart from foie gras and calves’ liver – offal is now found at some of the smartest restaurants in town. Much of the credit for this should go to St John, Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver’s Smithfield institution, a starkly white former smokehouse that somehow manages to exude warmth and bonhomie: the bakery helps, as do dishes such as ox tongue or brawn.

Or I might go to Racine (pictured), Henry Harris’s excellent French bistro on Brompton Road. Everything here – the smart chairs, the warm lighting, the racks of wine – is comme il faut. I invariably order tête de veau with sauce ravigote, a wonderfully wobbly calf’s-head terrine with a piquant, herby jus; failing that, veal kidneys, grilled with Roquefort butter and served with silky pomme purée.

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But my favourite dish in which innards play a starring role is faggots – meatballs made from pig’s heart and liver, with minced bacon and breadcrumbs, wrapped in caul fat and cooked in a rich onion gravy.

I especially crave the version made with lamb, not pork, offered at The Butcher’s Arms in Eldersfield, Gloucestershire, a beautiful little place that stays just the right side of being a pub: tables are plain and wooden, old railway posters cover the walls and beer is drawn straight from the cask.

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The menu is several notches up from pub grub – fillet of beef served with a small oxtail pie, fondant potatoes and spinach, the fillet medium rare, the sauce accomplished. It is a seriously good kitchen, but it keeps eccentric hours, so check before you go.

Back to the faggots: small, juicy and ethereally scented, the gravy richly concentrated, the onions meltingly sweet, with a few crisp onion rings on top. Alongside the faggots was a chorizo meatball: inauthentic but a terrific partner for the sublime offal. When the weather orders one to eat inside, I do like ordering and eating insides.

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