Foodies can be quite a puritanical bunch at times. Obviously not from the point of view of restraint from excess, as they’re oft spotted troughing through mountains of carbs and saturated fats; witness the gluttonous craze for greasy burgers that has swept the nation of late. Frankly I’m not a fan. I side brazenly with the esteemed food writer Marina O’Loughlin who decries the gratuitous slobbery and hapless excess that is exhibited in wolfing down a mound of patties, buns and oozing cheese often slathered in battered and deep fried onion rings, soaked in mayo and bombed with jalapeños. Admittedly I’d be lying if I said the prospect of such wanton indulgence doesn’t give me something of a tingle, but akin to the tingle one gets before doing anything you know is blindly dumb, like throwing stones at a window as a kid or getting tanked on Tequila as an adult. Greasy burgers are sleeping with the ex let’s face it; life’s rich tapestry sure, but at times we just need to roll down our sleeves, step off the madly-go-round and take a leisurely stroll through the neatly ordered park of conservatism.
Fear not dear reader, the wild streak is not all but lost, I have merely skipped sideways for a breath of fresh air and in to the pristine interior of a brasserie that is one of a newly expanded group. Yes, that is correct, a group. As in, almost a chain. Here is where the puritanical element down tools and dust off into the distance in an eddy of tuts and flippant airborne hand whirls. Good, let them vanish. And to those of you devotees still intrigued I should tell you firstly that I ate one of the best steaks I’ve yet had the pleasure to feast on. Smoked no less. Not a grease dripping onion ring or brazen blob of randomly spiced mayo in sight.
Raymond Blanc is known to most if not all of us as the man responsible for Le Manoir Aux Quats Saison, one of the first hotel restaurants of it’s kind in the UK, featuring an elegantly landscaped market garden, cookery school and two coveted Michelin stars. So it should come as no great surprise that Brasserie Blanc, the junior sibling of Le Manoir, is not simply an embellishment on another justly maligned French brasserie chain I will be tasteful enough not to mention less they turn rouge with embarrassment. At Brasserie Blanc, emphasis is on fresh, seasonal, free-range and freedom food. Along with the group’s executive chef Clive Fretwell who has worked with Blanc for nearly 25 years, Raymond creates menus showcasing basic French fare with the best of British produce. One distinct advantage to having somebody of Raymond Blanc’s ilk at the helm, is a guarantee of consistent quality, something any restaurant group can and should strive to achieve. So it was with much aplomb that I donned my best birthday clobber and tripped off to Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia.
La bella dama had smoked salmon to start and rather than thin ceviche-like slices, an elegant strip of salmon steak smoked in-house arrived, dressed with light cucumber salad. Rope grown mussels were perfectly cleaned, delicate and moreish. We then shared the smoked rib-eye, having been tantalised by aromas wafting up from the kitchen as we waited. It was worth the wait. Cornish beef is dry aged for 30 days and as succulent and tender as you could expect. Next up, pistachio soufflé with chocolate ice cream was a treat and a half. Light, fluffy, evidently fresh eggs and redolent of pistachio, there was a scrabble of spoons clinking against one another in a pretentiously polite flash. My crumble was good but outclassed by that soufflé. From the well-chosen mainly French wine list we selected a Fleurie which proved a good match to both the fish / shellfish starter and the bearnaise drenched smokey ribeye.
There is a prix-fixe menu that represents great value, as well as various promotions throughout the year worth keeping an eye on. It’s not often I’d mention a company website but theirs strikes me as being very well curated. There were nine Brasserie Blancs in 2011, now there are twenty nationwide, and long may they reign.