Brasserie Blanc, Leeds
Living North (Yorkshire issue 14)
Located just outside Leeds’ buzzing city centre alongside the tranquil canal, the West Yorkshire branch of Raymond Blanc's famous restaurant group offers atypical French inspired cuisine in a cosy, rustic atmosphere
Settling down at a canal-side table in the atmospheric, rustic yet sleek converted Victorian mill of Brasserie Blanc feels like the beginning of a culinary adventure. Having opened in 2007 as one of a chain of restaurants around the country, lovable self-taught celebrity chef Raymond Blanc's latest gastronomic business exploits are a vastly more accessible alternative to his highly esteemed, twice Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons restaurant in Oxfordshire. Although the Brasserie eateries lack the three month waiting list, the menu offers a delightfully varied yet modest range of refreshingly non-stereotypical French inspired cuisine. Granted, escargot makes its requisite appearance as a starter, but paired with such well-balanced dishes, all classics with exciting twists, the cuisine is anything but predictable.
As a lover of multifaceted dishes, I took delight in dipping in and out of each distinctive pocket of flavour in Maman Blanc's Miscellany of Salads. Even the dish's name evoked a sense of nostalgic glee, with homely and unassuming garden delights chopped and whipped into fresh and tasty morsels. Crunchy celeriac remoulade, zingy carrot vinaigrette, creamy cucumber and dill crème fraîche as well as the simple, self-assured addition of whole radishes perked up my tastebuds. Meanwhile, my co-diner's starter, goat’s cheese parcel, was rich in flavour with a texture that crumbled at the touch, complementing the audibly crispy casing and piquant tomato chutney excellently.
In comparison to the other main dishes on the wide-ranging a la carte menu, including slow braised lamb shoulder, ‘priest strangler’ pasta and dressed Brixham crab, my main dish of grilled king scallop skewer sounded a little insufficient and short of a full meal despite its accompaniment of spring onion crushed potatoes. But the exceptionally knowledgeable and polite waiting staff were able to offer suggestions for suitable side dishes, and a generous bowl of crunchy French beans seemed a perfect addition. Each scallop was lightly crispy on the outside, with a delicately flavoured meaty centre. The crushed potatoes were a little too salty, unfortunately overpowering the pot of chopped scallop coral, parsley, shallot and garlic drizzle oil. The house white wine was a refreshing Domaine de la Provenquière Sauvignon Blanc, which accompanied my seafood dish well.
A slate slab struggled to contain my companion’s medium-rare 10oz hunk of sirloin steak, which was promptly devoured. The meat was sumptuous, tender and juicy, served with crispy French fries as a satisfying alternative to new potatoes, mash or salad. Along with the rest of Brasserie Blanc’s meat, the steaks are free range and sourced from individually selected farms in Cornwall. Children’s menus are also available depending on age, from ‘Bébé Blanc’ free organic carrot puree to the ‘Petit Blanc’ set menu for younger diners and ‘Jeune Blanc’ - half portions of a range of main dishes for eight year-olds upwards.
Deliberating over the choice of desserts proved a tough task, with a signature flamed baked Alaska for two and French cheeseboard as tough competition against the lemon cream Savarin. Eventually, the lemon dish proved too tempting, an intriguing Parisian pâttiserie inspired by the ‘Baba au Rhum’ or Rum Baba. Topped with a globe of zesty lemon sorbet and swirl of sweet lemon cream, the cake was soaked in a sugar syrup infused with the beautifully fragrant livèche herb, whilst confit slow-cooked lemon slices added a hidden texture and depth to the dish. Meanwhile, the chocolate cold crumble was made up of blankets of indulgent, creamy layers of luxury Valrhona chocolate topped with a scrumptious biscuity crunch.
As the only branch of Brasserie Blanc in the North, Leeds provides the perfect backdrop and custom for the esteemed franchise. Raymond describes the city as an area ‘rich in fantastic local producers, making it nearly too easy to cook.’ The combination of France and Yorkshire may seem an odd marriage, but with a fantastic atmosphere and exciting yet unintimidating cuisine, the two seem perfectly matched. As the chef himself says of Leeds, ‘how could I not love a place where the man who supplies our rhubarb harvests it by night because it improves the taste?’
Victoria Mill, Sovereign Street, Leeds, LS1 4BJ
0113 220 6060, www.brasserieblanc.com