“I feel as though we’re on a vintage train in France in the 30s,” my dining companion remarks as we walk into Brasserie Blanc on the South Bank of London. The branch is owned by renowned celebrity Chef Raymond Blanc and is incredibly different to his Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons—his two Michelin-star restaurant in Oxfordshire.
The Brasserie chain of restaurants is more informal, more relaxed, with the dishes served here simpler than those on offer at his fancy Le Manoir. “I am often asked what a Brasserie Blanc is,” Blanc says on the restaurant’s website. “Well if the Manoir is a delicate waltz then the Brasseries are the Can Can,” he sums up nicely.
Blanc’s ethos with the brasseries across London is to create a place for “relaxed enjoyment” where diners can experience “simple, high-quality food that comes as close as possible to the meals that my mother prepared for me at home in Besançon”. So on a cold night in London, my friend and I are excited to try it out.
Inside is warm and welcoming, boasting what seems to be a typically French design—a checkered black and white tiled floor, dark wooden chairs and tables, along with a large zinc bar with stools for pre-dinner drinks. Our smiling waitress takes us to our table for the evening, a cozy booth, which has a huge overhead metal storage, conjuring the locomotive-style appearance which sparked my dining companion’s comment.
We begin our evening with a glass of crisp and light champagne as we look around and take in the atmosphere; it’s an older clientele here on a Saturday night, and the restaurant is bustling, with nearly half the tables already full. After poring over the menu for too long (there are lots of interesting options) my friend and I are finally ready to order. To start, I opt for Maman Blanc’s Miscellany of Salads. It’s served on an incredibly large plate with individual portions of creamy cucumber and dill creme fraîche, celeriac remoulade, potato salad, carrot vinaigrette, breakfast radish, sweetheart salad.
More like a sharing dish, it’s too large for me to finish alone, but I manage to consume most of it—a light, tapas style of fresh ingredients with subtle flavors; nothing too overpowering. My companion chose the Burgundian Escargot in Garlic Herb Butter. The soft-but-nutty texture of the snails is complemented by the creamy butter. It’s given the thumbs up. So far, so good. We’re impressed with the courses and our waitress is friendly and helpful, recommending dishes as well as a bottle of wine to accompany our meals.
We decide to go with her choice, a bottle of crisp but fruity Domaine Begude Vin De Pays D’oc, Sauvignon Blanc. As we sip our wine, we realize while we devoured our starters, we’d failed to notice that every table has been occupied, and the restaurant is now buzzing—it’s obviously a popular place.
Our main courses soon arrive. My Swiss Chard and Gruyere Gratin, fricassee of mushrooms and poached egg is served on a large white plate, the colors complimenting each other, so it looks like a work of art. It’s a mouth-watering combination. There’s the creamy, soft cheese which is incredibly moreish, with salty, chunky mushrooms sprinkled on top as well as a too-perfect egg. It’s divine. I’ve also ordered a side of French fries. I don’t even want to guess my calorie intake this evening.
Across the table, my friend’s choice of Roast Lincolnshire Free Range Pork Belly served with crackling, roast apple, and green apple sauce is being devoured as well. It also gets the thumbs up. The meat is soft and expertly cooked, while the crackling is bursting with flavor, perfect with the apple sauce. Before we know it, we’re the last table left in the restaurant. Time has flown by and it’s been a relaxed evening.
We had high expectations visiting a restaurant owned by a top celebrity chef. And it seems Raymond Blanc has achieved what he set out to do: create simple dishes with his trademark expertise.