Cath Kane and Thomas Chalk interrupted their evening at Brasserie Blanc to tell us “What a great evening! Tasty food and lovely service.” Here, they review their dining experience from quite contrasting dietary perspectives.
We were looking forward to our visit to Brassiere Blanc Leeds on a cold, wet, autumnal Thursday in November.
It sits just off Sovereign Street, overlooking the river Aire, in what we think must be a former warehouse building. The interior (warm red brick walls, low ceilings and soft lighting) was as welcoming as the friendly staff.
Given Leeds’ excellent independent food scene, neither of us had expected to be asked to review a chain restaurant: Brasserie Blanc Leeds is one of fourteen branches across the UK. There is nothing inherently wrong with celebrity chefs, and Raymond Blanc has always come across well. Even so, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we were not bombarded by Monsieur Blanc’s face (Gallicly handsome as it undoubtedly is) staring out at us from every wall and menu page.
Cath’s Omnivore Review
I could have chosen anything on the menu to be honest; it all sounded exciting. I decided I would do the classic surf and turf combo over starters and mains. To begin with, I had Crab & Sweetcorn Bon-Bons with Brown Crab mayo and Guacamole (£9.75). The Bon Bons were light with a lovely sweetness from the crab and corn. The sweetness was cut through by a tangy sharpness from the mayo.
It was one of those nights where comfort food was needed, and true to my Northern roots, it doesn’t get much better than bangers and mash, here in the form of Toulouse Sausages (£15.25). The succulent sausages sat on a pillowy sage and onion mash, smothered in Lyonnaise sauce, and topped with crispy shallots. I visited Lyon a few years ago so knew the sauce would be incredibly, deliciously rich. The sweetness from the soft onions and sharp kick from the vinegar worked wonderfully with the earthy sausages.
One of my favourite desserts was on the menu – Crème Brulee (£6.95), so I had to go with this. There was no messing around with additional flavours; it was a simple, traditional vanilla version, made really well. It was light and creamy, with a crunchy top. Everything you want in a Brulee. Thomas let me have just a single mouthful of his Pistachio Soufflé, but it’s ok. I completely understand why he didn’t want to share any more (see full Souffle review below!)
Thomas’ Vegetarian Review
French brasserie cooking is not the first thing you’d think of when considering vegetarian dining choices, so I was pleased to find that there were several options available. Of the eleven starters, three are vegetarian, and two of those vegan (a fourth starter, goat’s cheese and leek tart, is not labelled as vegetarian which I assume means it contains animal rennet – accurate labelling in relation to rennet is still hit and miss in restaurants, so presumably I can doff my chapeau to Brasserie Blanc for getting this right). There are then four main course options; three vegan and one a halloumi burger.
We shared a plate of bread and dips (£3.25) while we made our decisions on what to eat. The saffron rouille was lively with garlic but not overpowering, allowing the earthy flavour of the saffron to hold its own. Similarly, the spiced tomato and roast pepper was punchy in the right way. Olive oil and balsamic reduction are a classic dip for a reason (though for some reason I always find it’s the thing I leave). The bread had the right combination of crust and moist crumb.
We made a start on a nice bottle of Puglian Primitivo from the section of the wine list offering ‘medium-bodied, rich and complex’ reds (£29.50 – also by the glass at £8.50 for 175ml). This went well with the bread and dips, and continued to do great service through the rest of our meal.
Having spied a dessert souffle that I planned to try, I opted not to start with the cheese souffle. Instead, I went with the trio of beetroot (£8.95), which combined three colours of beetroot with bulgar wheat salad, houmous, piquillo peppers and balsamic reduction. Both beetroot and my palate can take quite a lot of salt, but the risk is that restaurants over-rely on it; this was not the case at Brasserie Blanc, with a delicate hand used to season and acidify the dish. The bulgar salad was studded with chick peas and pumpkin seeds, and had a slight saffron glow of yellow, providing nice textural contrast. For me, the houmous was the least successful thing on the plate – fine enough, but not really adding anything that the beets and wheat didn’t already have covered.
Vegetarians who grumble at ending up with vegan food because restaurants want to keep their menus manageably-sized might feel short-changed by only having the dairy option of a halloumi burger. To them I say: try the celeriac. I’m not sure I’d be able to review this vegan dish without using the word ‘buttery’ as a description. Have we reached peak celeriac? If so, I don’t care – the views are great from up here. A thick disc of celeriac was cooked fondant-style, again with the perfectly-judged hand on the salt, until it hit the fudgy and, yes, buttery sweet spot where this vegetable shines. The accompanying celeriac choucroute – lightly pickled matchsticks of raw celeriac – and silky celeriac puree sat nicely on either side of the textural spectrum to the main attraction (£15.25). This was supported by green beans (£4.65) and charred hispi cabbage (£4.25) – the former a serviceable enough side dish, the latter something I would happily see as the star of a main plate.
And so to dessert, and the pistachio souffle that caught my eye when the menus first arrived (£8.65). It was listed as a “Brasserie Blanc classic”, and our waitress Elle told me that it had been off the menu for a while but so many people requested it that it had to make a comeback. The people had spoken – and when my souffle arrived, I could understand why. Like a successful technical challenge in a TV cookery show, it stood proud of the large ramekin, with not a hint of sinking. The interior, pale pistachio-green, was moist and airy and nicely perfumed with nuts, offset by a bitter cocoa edge lining the vessel. The accompanying rich chocolate ice cream held its own without leaning too heavily into cocoa-bitterness. (I have a tinge of regret that I didn’t double-souffle when making my tactical starter choice, given how good the sweet one turned out to be.)
Brasserie Blanc are now taking Christmas party bookings at £37.50 per person for three courses, coffee and a mince pie, and Christmas Day bookings at £99.95 per person for six courses and Buck’s Fizz, with places for children aged 12 and under at £49.95. Visit
https://brasserieblanc.com/christmas/ for more details.
Mondays are Bring Your Own Bottle day – tables can bring one bottle per main course ordered, with no corkage charge.
Not forgetting the friendly staff…
Photography by Cath Kane. Words by Thomas Chalk and Cath Kane.
4 Victoria Mill
0113 220 6060