Dinner for two at Brasserie Blanc

The Norfolk quail at Brasserie Blanc

The Norfolk quail at Brasserie Blanc - Credit: Archant

Tucked away in a street littered with restaurants, it’s not difficult to see why Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc’s offering, Brasserie Blanc, might sometimes be overlooked by diners.

And though there is stiff competition, with the likes of Loch Fyne, Carluccio’s and Prezzo just metres away, it certainly puts up a good fight, establishing itself as a sophisticated eatery with a laid-back and charming ambience.

On arrival, myself & my dinner companion were greeted warmly by a waiter, who promptly led us to our table, nestled in amongst other diners who were a mixture of families and couples.

Within minutes of being seated, we were offered a complimentary glass of fizz and an array of dips or ‘trempettes’, including saffron garlic mayonnaise, olive tapenade and balsamic vinegar and olive oil, accompanied by freshly baked crusty bread with salted butter.

A lover of all things carb, the evening was off to a good start!

So far so good, myself and my companion opting for the Scottish Queen scallops and mixed charcuterie board to start, despite being tempted by the escargots with garlic herb butter and the steak tartare, two renowned dishes of French cuisine.

The cuts of meat, bayonne ham, roasette de lyon, salami, pork rillettes, coppa and sayord sausage were all delicious, though I found the pickled vegetables a little out of place and not quite to my taste.

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Charcuterie is a classic in my eyes, so I would have been happy enough with the big plate of cold meats and the sourdough bread which I greedily continued to dip in the saffron garlic mayonnaise!

Suitably stuffed from our entrées and starters, picking a main was tough with a number of brasserie staples taking my fancy such as the boeuf bourgignon, sea bream a la bouillabaisse and the steak frites.

Even the evening’s special, the special of sea trout with new potatoes and spring greens, a dish taken from Raymond’s new book, sounded delicious and a very tempting option as someone who often tries to be more calorie conscious.

However, after much deliberation (and making the rather swift and surprisingly easy decision to indulge!), I plumped for the roasted and boned Norfolk quail with a pâté of golden sultanas, spring vegetables and sherry sauce, a hearty dish which I was sure wouldn’t disappoint, while my companion selected one of her favourites, duck leg confit, with very little hesitation.

Though the dishes were both tasty enough with the quail moist and abundant in its distinctive gamey flavour, the dauphinoise potatoes which came alongside the duck were slightly undercooked and the duck itself perhaps needing a touch more seasoning.

But as we were still so full from our starters, we hardly made a dent in our mains, though this was no criticism of the dishes, which on the whole, were packed full of flavour.

As we’d made it so far, we thought we might as well go the whole hog and order a dessert, my dinner date having eyed up the dessert special, the triple chocolate mousse, from the moment we stepped through the door.

I adore crème brûlée, so whenever I spot it on a menu my mind is already made up, and this evening was no exception!

I like to consider myself a bit of a purist and was slightly disappointed to see it came with steamed rhubarb but tried to let this not deter my choice.

Our desserts arriving relatively quickly and not leaving much time for our mains to digest, we both tucked in despite being full.

Though I am far from a crème brûlée connoisseur, I have to admit I did expect more, even though the caramel was perfectly hard and cracked obediently under my spoon.

The rhubarb was too sugary and sickly for my palate, perhaps not being helped by the fact I had eaten so much my trouser buttons felt like they were about to pop open!

Though perhaps there were one or two minor spots for improvement the service was impeccable and I couldn’t fault the staff who were all only too happy to help.

Watching them tend to the other diners, they remained attentive and polite at all times.

In a city bursting at the seams with Italian restaurants, Brasserie Blanc is a welcome break away from the generic chain restaurant serving up unimaginative and unauthentic food.

With only a handful of restaurants across the country, it retains its own character, and oozes charm with its traditional French style with a modern twist, after reopening following a complete refurb in March.

Its crisp and clean interior and homely feel echoes Raymond’s ethos, restaurant manager Fred Foey is quick to tell us.

Indeed the restaurant’s inspiration of ‘chez nous’, literally translating as ‘at ours’, conjures up images of Raymond cooking for his wife and children and inviting us in to join them at the table.

A quote from Raymond, emblazoned on the restaurant’s website, quickly reaffirms this thinking:

“A good brasserie is all about comfort, informality, warmth and great, simple food.”

And that’s what the restaurant is, comfy, informal with simple, but elegant food.

• Brasserie Blanc is at 1-3 Verulam Road in St Albans.

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