Weekend restaurant review: Brasserie Blanc, Cheltenham
We're blessed here in Gloucestershire. When faced with the dilemma of where to go for a nice meal, we're spoilt for choice.
In Cheltenham alone, there's a veritable feast of tempting restaurants to suit every budget and occasion.
So where to choose for a mid-week evening out with a good friend when you feel like treating yourselves over a glass (or two) of wine and some great food?
Where else but Brasserie Blanc?
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When culinary legend Raymond Blanc created his brasseries, he intended them to be relaxed places where you could enjoy simple, high-quality food in sophisticated, but low-key surroundings. The haute cuisine is kept for his Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, near Oxford.
Here, both the atmosphere and the price range, were intended to be far more accessible. Well Monsieur Blanc, you've got it right.
Apparently, the traditional French food served up at Brasserie Blanc comes as close as possible to the meals served up by Raymond's mum at his home in Besancon. It makes the lumpy mash I was brought up on seem even more disappointing than before (sorry Mum!) On the night we visited, the restaurant was buzzing with diners.
Although the sleek and chic dining room was close to full, there was no sense of over-crowding, even though the tables are packed close together. A welcome result of the room's previous incarnation as the old ballroom of the Queen's Hotel.
The high ceilings give the feeling of grand spaciousness and provide the other ingredient necessary of top-notch establishments – wonderful acoustics which let the sound of conversation and general merriment hang high above so it adds to the atmosphere, yet you can't actually hear the conversation on the next table. The dim lighting provided by the flickering candles only adds to the sense of cosy privacy. Perfect for an evening of girly gossip.
As we were guided to our table by an impeccably groomed, impossibly polite waiter, the delicious smells coming from the open kitchen at one end of the dining room whetted our appetites.
Despite being so obviously busy, our charming waiter didn't keep us waiting a minute longer than necessary. And the obvious professionalism of the chefs meant our food was served promptly.
I opted for asparagus with poached egg, spinach and lemon beurre blanc which was just the right side of salty, the fresh bright yellow of the egg clear even in the dim light.
My friend opted for the cheese soufflé, which she was less enamoured with, claiming it to be too dry and a bit tasteless.
She was much more impressed with her choice of lamb's liver for the main course, professing it to be melt in the mouth and among the best she'd ever tasted.
I chose the bouillabaisse, which was light but filling with a slight spice and huge, satisfying chunks of fish. A great choice.
Neither of us could manage a dessert, though the list was more than tempting.
There's no doubt that, in spite of its reasonable pricing, Brasserie Blanc is a higher class of accessible dining.