Brasserie Blanc, the nationwide chain started by award-winning French chef Raymond Blanc. Intended to be a place for relaxed enjoyment with "simple, high quality food that comes as close as possible to the meals that [Blanc's] mother prepared for [him] at home in Besançon", and at a great price. Indeed, Blanc describes the brasseries as the 'Can Can' to his renowned Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons' waltz!
The Chichester branch is the 9th Brasserie, and is situated in a newly developed courtyard, similar to the other branches which all seem to be in fine locations. A pleasant design and atmosphere, with stylish wooden floors, banquettes and deep shades of red adding to the ambience, it is a welcoming and attractive environment.
We arrived at 5.30pm, intending to avoid the evening crowd who may not have appreciated dining with small people, but to be honest I wish we had booked for lunchtime, because even at that early hour the clientele were distinctly unimpressed with a not-entirely quiet baby and toddler being in attendance. This may be as much to do with dining out in Chichester as the restaurant though! Unfortunately the staff were slightly less than impressed too, and seemed unused to having small people in the restaurant.
Lara was happy at being given a proper glass, and no sign of baby cutlery or accoutrements, but at the same time, her parents would have appreciated such things for Sophia, just 12 months old. We had just come from a day out, and had unfortunately forgotten to pack the JoJoMaman Bebe rubber table mat, plastic bowl and travel cutlery we usually have with us, and it proved something of a challenge keeping an eye on Sophia with proper cutlery and a big china plate!
The menu is largely inspired by Raymond's mother, and offers a selection of French classics, as well as modern dishes, made with fresh, quality, seasonal ingredients at affordable prices. We were impressed with the value for money offered by the set menu - £16.45 for 3 courses plus a glass of wine for £2.50; and just £13.50 for the 3 courses at lunchtime. Very competitive pricing.
We had a bottle of the house wine, which was very pleasant, and reasonably mid-priced at £15.95 a bottle. We were less impressed with the children's menu, which offered chicken, cod, salad or macaroni cheese. We couldn't help feeling it might have been a little more inspired! The girls both had the pasta, which was VERY cheesy and buttery, and rather over-cooked, and I must admit they struggled to eat much of it.
I had the Miscellany of Salads, pictured above, to start which was very fresh-tasting and packed with flavours. It consists of carrot vinaigrette, celeriac remoulade, cherry tomatoes, cucumber crème fraîche, radishes and soused vegetables, and is quite substantial. In future I would order that on its own with some bread and potatoes, particularly as the main course I had - Swiss chard and Gruyère gratin, fricassee of mushrooms, poached egg - was very disappointing. Far too buttery and sloppy for my taste.
Steve fared rather better with his dishes, and was impressed with the Grilled Scottish Salmon Fillet, Choron Sauce and French Fries. He thought it nicely cooked and seasoned, but a little oily. Lara likes the fries! We also ordered a side of green beans, which were rather swimming in butter, which is not really to our taste.
All in all, I think that may have been the problem, it's not really our kind of food, and I'm sure if we were steak eaters we would have been delighted with our meal. But unfortunately there is little on offer for vegetarians, and everything has a tendency to be very buttery and rich, as a lot of French food can be, granted. I mus admit I had expected there to be some more southern French influences, for example Provencale dishes which tend to use fresher, simpler ingredients.
We would go back to Brasserie Blanc, but I think lunchtime would be a better bet for us, especially with young children, and preferably in summer when they would be welcome to move around and make noise whilst sitting outside. I would recommend Brasserie Blanc to meat eaters though, as friends have made appreciative noises about the many meat and fish dishes, particularly the steaks. I would also suggest that it is better suited to those with older children, who are more inclined to sit still and talk quietly!
I apologise for the quality - or lack thereof! - in some of these photos, we are still largely camera-less, and phones just don't cut it!