Previous reviews of this restaurant have been so mixed that I was quite looking forward to finding out why. Did they have particularly unreliable suppliers? A chef with a split personality? One visit was enough to suggest an explanation: there’s nothing much wrong with Brasserie Blanc; the food is pretty nice, and definitely well-cooked, and the service is better than average, but while people who go there expecting a higher end British restaurant - food good, but not amazing, price high, but not terrifying - should come out reasonably satisfied, anyone expecting an authentic French brasserie experience will be horribly disappointed. Raymond Blanc is quoted on the restaurant’s website as saying that they seek to provide ‘simple, high quality food that comes as close as possible to the meals that my mother prepared…at a price that encourages you to visit us regularly’. Perhaps in comparison to Blanc’s flagship, Le Manoir, Brasserie Blanc is indeed informal and affordable, but the atmosphere is very far removed from the traditional French and serving my steak on a wooden board is not going to change that.
Anyway, enough banging on about that. You can see what they’re trying to do, it doesn’t really work, but visit it with that in mind and you may well have a very nice meal. We started with Loch Duart salmon dill gravad lax, and Maroilles cheese soufflé with pear and walnut. With good salmon you really just want to be sure they won’t mess it up, and this was nice, delicate and not over-flavoured. The soufflé was a bit disappointing, certainly it should have been a subtle dish, but it ended up being rather bland: beautifully presented, mostly lacking in flavour. Their free range Aberdeenshire rump steak with Bearnaise sauce and chips came in at a hefty £15.50, but tasted well worth it, beautifully cooked, with a tiny amount of sauce and garlic sunblushed tomatoes, which somehow made a perfectly sufficient accompaniment. Similarly, great pleasure was taken in the rack of English spring lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and buttered cabbage, the meat delicately pink, the potatoes light and the cabbage actually worth eating. We liked the main course, and you might do your pocket and your palate a favour by sticking just to that. That said, there wasn’t much wrong with their desserts, a dark, sweet chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream,and a lemon tart which was mostly delicious sharp lemon filling with a very thin layer of pastry to offset it.
We had pretty good service, more friendly than efficient, but never intrusive. Once or twice our waiter bustled off when we suspected he hadn’t heard the entire order, and indeed, our coffee didn’t arrive, and when we asked again we ended up being charged twice, but this was rectified quickly and terribly pleasantly. The atmosphere was a little bit stuffy, possibly because the natural brasserie clientele were all down the road in the gastropub, while the remaining diners were all rather respectable and grown up. We paid £85 for three courses, wine and coffee.
What really makes French brasserie food so special is that compared to British food, it’s exceptional value; you can eat something totally delicious, sumptuous, made with high-quality ingredients, for the cost of a sensibly priced pub lunch, which should hopefully result in a lively, bustling atmosphere. I’m afraid, whatever the intention, this is not what Brasserie Blanc produces. But hey, their steak is really good.