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Harden's survey result
“Fair all-round, if by no means special” is a justifiable, if slightly harsh verdict on Raymond Blanc’s contemporary brasserie chain, whose branches are generally handy and well-appointed, and whose EC2 and SE1 outlets are often voted as “a decent place for a business meet up/dinner”. If it were not “trading on the name” of one of the country’s most famous chefs, its “reasonable” level of cooking might seem more laudable and less “formulaic”.
Even if it’s not “the most gastronomic option”, Raymond Blanc’s contemporary brasserie chain does have fans who laud its “pleasant” branches, and “reliable, routine French cuisine”. Critics take a similar view but from a glass-half-empty standpoint: “no big complaints, but the value-for-money is low and service so-so”.
‘Brasserie Bland’ would unfortunately be a better title for Raymond Blanc’s modern brasserie chain. To be sure there are less enjoyable standbys out there, and for an “OK pre-theatre meal” they could be worse, but the fare is “formulaic” and “the ambience AWOL”.
“How does Raymond Blanc put his name to cooking of this quality?” This bland modern brasserie chain does have its fans as a business standby, but “it’s gone downhill” in recent times – the food can be “very ordinary”, service “perfunctory” and “there’s no sense of emotional ownership”.
Brasserie Blanc EC2
A useful but uninspired chain outlet, handily located for mid-rank business lunching in the heart of the City.
Raymond Blanc may technically be French, but he has made himself into something of a national treasure. His Manoir aux Quat'Saisons is a grand and accomplished all-round country destination of many years' standing. Not something we have that many of in England!
The chain with which he is associated is less distinguished, and has had its ups and downs over the years. However, our survey confirms that, in recent times, it has been one of the more solid performers in the mid-range chain-brasserie 'space'. (A space, in fact, with few occupants - only Carluccio's and some of the smarter steak-specialists). The new City outpost confirms these impressions. Qualitatively speaking, both its food and its ambience lurk in that no man's land where restaurant groups are condemned to roam.
Let's start with the food. The menu is that of your classic Gallic brasserie. It includes such starters as a plate of salads (Maman Blanc's apparently) - a simple but satisfying dish of a type that you don't often find on a menu in England. Here, it was done very well (if you overlook the aggressive balsamic which overpowered the lettuce at the centre of half a dozen scoops of fresh and appetising salads). Bread was good too, but even Blanc seems to have been defeated by the sourcing of a proper baguette. If you're going for that authentic brasserie feeling, there is no substitute.
A main course of lamb's liver with mash and cabbage was very serviceable, if a bit bland, but a 'feuilleté' turned out to be notable for its complete absence of feuilles (leaves) - the chocolate pudding that arrived made a decent-enough substitute, but we were disappointed to get no pastry. (That at Maison Blanc, also associated with Raymond, is pretty good.) Un café was a damp squib.
The price for this functional meal, with one glass of wine and a tip (discretionary) nudged £40. Arguably OK for the City. But beware a boozy lunch. That single glass of Fleurie was £7.50. For a chain outlet, too many wines tend towards a tenner a glass (175ml).
The staff seemed, for once, to be mainly composed of that tribe to which the service is usually a foreign language - the native British. Even more surprisingly, the service was actually very good.
When it comes to appearances, though, would any Gallic brasserie pile up foods branded by le patron in the window display, as if this were a shop, not a restaurant? Too many shades of Carluccio's for our taste.
Blanc is perhaps unlucky or unwise to have set up opposite the more authentically French Relais de Venise L'Entrecôte. As we left, we couldn't help thinking that we'd have much preferred lunch on the other side of the street.
Last orders: 10 pm