Brasserie Blanc in Berkhamsted
I joined a good friend and colleague for lunch at Brasserie Blanc. I was very impressed with both the food the ambiance and the service and so was my friend. We decided to go for the set menu not because we are mean but because we thought that the portions would not be too big for the middle of the day.
I was looking forward to this as I had recently watched Raymond Blanc’s television programmes where he went back to his roots in France. My wife is French and after many years and many trips to France I feel that I might have some roots there too. In France, it is still very easy to find a good restaurant that will be able to serve you high quality food a reasonable price. This is not so in Britain. Yes, it is possible to find really fine cuisine but you have to pay very high prices. At a lower price level it is difficult to find superb food. At 8.95 pounds for a three course meal I was hoping to get the best quality food at a fair price.
For starters my friend had a beetroot salad and although I do not particularly like beetroot it looked very palatable.
I opted for the spring vegetable soup, alright this is not very adventurous, but is was quite chilly outside for April and I needed something to warm me up.
My colleague chose Dorade or Seabream for his main course. To me it looked as if it had been cooked perfectly.
I chose the Confit de Porc or Lincolnshire Pork preserved and cooked in pork fat. Despite umpteen trips to France, I have never eaten this dish before. Maybe my wife, family and French friends are a bit conservative about food for I have only ever been cooked Confit de Canard by them. Conservative or not I have never seen Confit de Porc on a restaurant menu in France but sometimes I have eaten Confit de Poulet. Adventurous or not I was looking forward to my main course. The Pork was perfectly cooked and seasoned; it was not at all greasy. It was served with flageolet beans cooked with bacon. Flageolet beans are a particular favourite of mine and my wife and her sisters really cook them well. Usually, we only eat them with Lamb – so much for adventure.
We washed this down with a bottle of 2010 Château Haut Roudier red Bordeaux. This wine would never win any prize but it was good enough for the set menu and our pocket. The full wine list is quite impressive for a Brasserie, but 150 pounds for a bottle of Château Palmer 2003 was probably too extravagant to go with the set menu. It is my opinion that all of the top wines on the list were too young to drink now. One of the more affordable wines on the list was Château Martinat, Côtes de Bourg red, and I would certainly have ordered a bottle if it had been available. Château Martinat is a fabulous wine which gives its more expensive Bordeaux cousins a run for their money. I recommend this wine highly. This wine is a perfect selection for a Brasserie and you will not be disappointed with either the quality of the wine or its price. It is more likely to be ready for drinking as it matures earlier than more expensive red Bordeaux.
Before the dessert we shared a cheese plate. There were four varieties of cheese three French and a Shropshire blue. Despite all my trips to France, I have difficulty remembering the names of all the cheeses. We had a type of Tomme, a St Nectaire and a cream cheese whose name still escapes me. They were all excellent. The waitress reminded us, quite rightly, that the Shropshire Blue was the strongest cheese and should be eaten last. I only took her advice on the first round.
We then followed with the dessert – French style. I chose the crème brûlée which I thought was good but I am not certain that it was cooked on the premises. My friend chose the Chocolate and Banana Mousse; he was disappointed with this. It looked to me more like a heavier English style chocolate pudding. It was not very light – perhaps it was cooked on the premises and the chef got it wrong. All in all, the food was excellent and very good value for money. Such good value for money that we decided to celebrate with a Calvados and an Armagnac. My friend had the Calvados.
The ambiance of the restaurant was excellent and it had the feel of a friendly French Brasserie, but it was not too informal.
Likewise the waitresses and waiters were friendly but not too familiar. I hate being called “guys” and for me this is taking a liberty. It is for the customer to decide the level of formality not the waiting staff. I hate it even more when my wife is with me – we are not guys. How would the waitress like it if I said come over here and serve me guy? I think I might be asked to leave. In France the waiters and waitresses are trained to show respect. The waiter does not call us “Gars” and we do not insult him by calling him Garçon. “Salut Gars” is for when you are going out for a drink with the lads and is not for the Restaurant or Brasserie. So three cheers for Raymand Blanc again – “Guys” should be left for the school playground or BBC breakfast shows. I am glad I have got that off my chest.
In France, Italy and Spain, waiting is seen as a respectable trade, or profession even, and the waiters are trained properly. It is good to see Raymond Blanc introducing this way of service to a Brasserie in Britain. One of the waitresses was following a more senior colleague around to learn the trade.
We distracted our waitress with some chat about food and the locality but during this time she was looking around to see how busy the restaurant was and she probably would have had the good sense to move on politely if required. She was obviously a very intelligent employee; so Raymond is getting the employee selection right.
My friend and I have have travelled all over the world and sometimes we have met up on the same project. We have eaten out at so many different restaurants and in so many countries that we can instantly recognise a good one. We find ourselves indentifying four our five good restaurants in a new town or city and then visiting them more regularly. What is the secret of their success? It is great food, the ambiance and the service which needs to be friendly but not too familiar. The waiting staff in my opinion should command respect not by being obsequious but by being knowledgeable about the food, the wine and life in general and to be professional. Of course, there also needs to be attention to detail. Our wine waiter recognised that we were two people who knew how to handle ourselves in a restaurant, so he asked us if we were happy to pour the wine ourselves. This is the sort of attention to detail that impresses me.
Our comments good and bad were taken into account with good grace by the manager and her staff. Of course, our comments were mostly good.
Brasserie Blanc, obviously has got all the ingredients right to make dining pleasurable. Raymond Blanc has had the vision to ensure that that everything is as it should be. He is to be congratulated and I hope all his other premises show the same professionalism as the Berkhamsted Brasserie. It is really showing a competitive edge and hopefully it will raise the standards of dining in Britain higher.
We shall be going back with our wives. Our bill was 80 pounds for two including the tip. I am expecting to spend more per head next time.
This article was written by Trevor Morgan. To read his blog click here