Blanc goes bland in the Square Mile

Timothy Barber
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Brasserie Blanc
60 Threadneedle Street, EC2R 8HP
Tel: 020 7710 9441

Cost per person without wine: £26

IT has the name Raymond Blanc attached, but don’t be thinking Brasserie Blanc has anything to do with the French celebrity chef’s haute cuisine flagship, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire. Brasserie Blanc is a chain of affordable bistros, most of which sit in respectably middle class places like Winchester, Oxford and Cheltenham (oh and Milton Keynes). Opening one in the City – the first in London – isn’t a bad idea though. While restaurants for inordinately expensive client lunches are ten-a-penny, places where you can head with your mates for a cheap but comfortable get together are a bit thin on the ground. Anywhere offering three courses plus a glass of wine for £14.95 is okay by me.

Brasserie Blanc occupies part of the ground floor of the huge steel and glass edifice that sits on the site of the old London Stock Exchange on Threadneedle Street. Architecturally it’s hardly the most atmospheric of spaces – and it isn’t helped by the emptiness of the surrounding units, making the restaurant seem a little isolated despite its bullseye position in the Square Mile – but it’s been turned into a smart enough place.

You enter into a tidy little cocktail bar with shiny wooden floor and chairs upholstered in red leather. While waiting to be seated, I ordered a Bloody Mary and it was top notch. Despite the French theme, it’s nice to know you can get a good pint of bitter here as well, which you could take with you to the dark upstairs lounge if you wanted.

The dining room is large, with a double-height ceiling providing ample wall-space for black and white pictures of M. Blanc to look down upon you while you’re eating, when he’s not staring at you from the covers of the books of his that sit in the windows. The décor is all very French – or at least how we imagine very French should be. Claret red banquettes, caramel-coloured walls, light fittings with trios of little glowing lampshades.

There’s an open galley kitchen down one side or the room where an army of cooks prepare Blanc’s menu of rustic French food. I started with slices of Morteau smoked sausage, lightly fried and served on lettuce with a poached duck egg, which was perfectly nice. A goats cheese parcel for my friend was light, creamy and unfussy, accompanied by a dense, tasty tomato chutney.

For a main course I went with lamb’s liver, with three strips of shiny meat sitting upon a pile of spring greens – both were overcooked. I liked the sage-infused dollop of mash potato, but the overall effect was bland. I certainly came off better than my friend, who chose a smoked haddock fish cake that desperately needed a sauce, or even a squeeze of lemon to distract from its dryness. Apparently it had gruyere cheese in it, but it tasted mostly of potato. We ordered some chips as well, which were thin-cut French fries with skins left on for added rusticity – we liked ‘em.

But we didn’t like being overcharged by several pounds when we paid, only to be told that there was a known glitch with the till software. If you’ve got an ongoing problem of that sort, I’d suggest checking each bill before presenting it, particularly on a quiet Friday evening service. Having said that, these things happen with new restaurants, and I’m assured that the problem has been dealt with now. Might be worth double-checking your bill though.

In a Nutshell:
Affordable eating options should always be welcomed in the Square Mile, particularly in a location as central as this. Brasserie Blanc won’t win culinary awards, but it’s a neat place that does its job – namely, providing an alternative to Chez Gerard.