A five-star experience at one of Kent’s finest restaurants

La Rascasse - Exterior

La Rascasse is something of a Beckenham institution, having resided on its High Street for over 30 years. Before I go any further, I should declare a vested interest; Beckenham itself holds a special place in my heart. I went to school there and have very happy memories of that time, bought my first home there and return often to visit friends and family.

Just a 20-minute train journey from London, Beckenham plays host to some excellent restaurants, which enjoy enduring popularity and loyal clientele. La Rascasse is one such restaurant. Family-owned, it’s well-known for its friendly staff, creative menu and thoughtful wine list. I’ve visited a number of times and always thoroughly enjoyed myself. I also organised a birthday party/school reunion there earlier this year, at which the staff could not have been more helpful.

Today, I was at La Rascasse for Sunday lunch and a long overdue catch-up with my friend Lorraine. The weather having changed overnight from Indian summer to wet & windy autumn, I was virtually blown into the restaurant and was relieved to find it as warm and inviting as ever – a relief, after the chilly train journey I’d just endured (seriously, Southeastern: it’s October. Switch the heating on!).

Ensconced in one of La Rascasse’s eminently comfortable booths, we perused the menu. On Sundays, the restaurant offers a set menu: three courses for the incredibly reasonable price of £18.90. Considering the quality of the food (always excellent) and the Greater London location, you’d be hard-pushed to find better value anywhere else.

As you would expect in a French restaurant, the menu favours meat and fish – but does offer a respectable vegetarian option for each course. I opted for the fish cakes with chilli sauce to start, while Lorraine pursued a slightly more adventurous path, choosing the pheasant. Both were excellent, and whetted our appetites for what was to come.

On this Sunday afternoon, the restaurant was pleasingly full and with a mixed clientele: families enjoying lunch together, friends catching up and couples taking time out from the general busyness of life. It’s rare for me, these days, to eat three courses, but La Rascasse’s fixed menu is centred on three options, so I thanked the universe for waking me up so early on a Sunday that I’d breakfasted by 7am and put my trust in La Rascasse’s chef to send me manageable portions.

I ummed and ahhd over the main courses, having spotted sea bream on the menu – but surprised myself by plumping, in the end, for Risotto With Wild Mushrooms and Goat’s Cheese. Why surprised? Well, although I’m pescatarian now, for many years I was a vegetarian – and experienced more than my fair share of dire risottos, lamentable mushroom stroganoffs and soggy quiches. The food world might have moved on, but my memories of half-frozen vegetarian lasagnes remain firmly intact.

Anyway, there was something about this particular Risotto that appealed to me – and wow, was I happy about my decision. Hand-on-heart, this was one of the tastiest dishes I’ve ever eaten. I think our charming waiter thought I was joking when I told him that – but I meant it. The goat’s cheese, which could have been overpowering, was deliciously mellow and nutty and had melted to just the right degree, the wild mushrooms lent the risotto a flavour and texture that this dish often lacks – and as for the divine, creamy sauce: well, I could devote an entire blog post to it.

La Rascasse - Risotto

Lorraine’s Sea Bream proved equally delectable – and more photogenic than my Risotto. Encircled by an array of colourful vegetables, it was a piece of fish so perfectly cooked that the fish simply melted away from its mouth-wateringly crispy salted skin.

La Rascasse - Sea Bream

Unsurprisingly, given the incredibly good value of this fixed-price menu, any other vegetables have to be ordered as extras – but the portion sizes were so generous we felt no need to do so.

As you can imagine, by the time we reached dessert stage, we were flagging. The spirit was willing, but the flesh a tad weak, you might say. Nonetheless, we battled on valiantly, aided by the compromise I’d managed to negotiate. Uncertain I’d be able to consume an entire mango parfait with salted caramel ice cream, I asked if I could have the ice cream on its own…and La Rascasse duly obliged. They also replaced the drink that we’d knocked over free-of-charge: what lovely people.

Both our desserts were delicious – as was the house wine. I can’t praise La Rascasse highly enough for doing what so many restaurants struggle with: delivering delicious food at eminently reasonable prices, complemented by fantastic service. If you live in Kent and haven’t visited yet: what’s stopping you? And if you live further afield, make the journey: you won’t be disappointed.

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