I got to do something very exciting earlier this week, I got to (help) pick out a menu for my wedding. After this rather arduous process, and needing a drink and a good meal, we headed to the Southbank for lunch. Recently I have been watching Raymond Blanc and his Kew on a Plate programme, which has influenced my own current kitchen garden. Being a fan of Raymond Blanc for his food and ethos on fresh food, we opted to stop in at Brasserie Blanc on the Southbank.
Now, I should stress that Brasserie Blanc is not meant to be anywhere close to the same league as Blanc’s famous Les Quat’ Saisons. It is an mass market attempt at French brasserie style food.
On first arrival it has all the appearances of a brasserie. Well, except for one crucial element. Customers. At 1:20pm, there is only about four tables with customers. Without the bustle, it is hard to build the atmosphere. That and the restaurant appeared to be an homage to Raymond Blanc, his books and pictures were everywhere. I did like that the booth tables where designed to mimic eating on a train, was a clever design feature.
Perhaps most tellingly, when we entered the restaurant the front of house who was obviously checking their email. That and they during when we arrived and was still sitting down when we left about an hour later. Now to be fair, I don’t know they were checking their email/shopping, but I refuse to believe that in a restaurant that had only five tables full required such intense and prolonged focus on the reservation list by the hostess.
OK, so the atmosphere, while having a few charms, isn’t exactly winning me over. So what about the food. We both had a the set menu, and I had the celeriac salad starter. I had never had a celeriac salad, so was looking forward to it. When it arrived it was well presented, a celeriac remoulade with lettuce. It was tasty, well seasoned, and had a perfect poached egg on top. To me this was important, all too often restaurants bungle the poached egg by over cooking it. Not here, the egg had a great warm yolk, which when poked oozed into the dish adding a great richness to it. Great marks for the starter.
The main, oh dear. Ce ne est pas très bon. It was lunch, and the other dishes on the menu just didn’t seem that interesting. So we both went for the burger.
Long ago I determined that as a general rule for North Americans visiting the UK, the British version of ‘classics’ like Pizza and burgers will always leave you disappointed. Dismayed even. I forgot this.
On paper, the burger it sounds good. Medium burger, comte cheese, brioche bun. In reality it was a greasy disappointment. The only flavour besides brioche was an overpowering garlic mayo or garlic butter. The burger, what should be the juicy source of a burgers flavour, was dry, bland and under seasoned.
The chips were the delightful skinny variety, but while these were nice and crisp on the outside and floury in the middle, they had the opposite problem to the burger. They were swimming in salt.
Dessert, well I only opted for the two courses. My other half, however, decided to forego a starter and went for dessert. Their poached pear with chocolate, in their opinion, was well poached (or ‘boozy’ which is always good for dessert!) and richly matched with a chocolate sauce.
Drinks, I had the house white. It was, unremarkable. In a Parisian brasserie you could expect the house white to still have a good flavour to it, this was seems to have meant to be bland so as to appeal to a wider audience. I’m sure had I gone for a more expensive bottle I would have been rewarded with a greater tingle in my palate. My coffee at the end of the meal was strong. As a good touch the milk served with it was warm and frothy, meant to compliment the coffee not cool it. Was much appreciated.
As for our waiter was good, and the food timely. No complaints there, in fact the waiter was clearly on top of how each table was doing and friendly/welcoming to both us and the other tables. However, there were a few issues. Firstly we had no napkins. Annoying but easily fixed. More annoying, the restaurant seems to do without side plates. Fine, except when they served some lovely fresh bread and we have to then eat our meals in a small pile of crumbs.
The reality is, this Brasserie Blanc is aimed at the rush crowds at the National Theatre, the BFI and ITV studios. Pleasant, but unoffensive and unremarkable. Despite appearances and promises it is not really a true French restaurant. If that is really what you are after, look elsewhere. If you do go, splash out for the non-house wine.