Eating Around: Brasserie Blanc, Tower Hill, London

A day out with my mum is always a treat, however it’s also a sure-fire way to get to enjoy some proper decent grub, as my mum is as much of a foodie as myself and has always been a complete whiz in the kitchen, much to our family and friend’s gratitude. Spoiling me to a day in my favourite capital back in September, she had even picked out a restaurant for our dinner venue, selecting somewhere glamorous yet cosy, famed yet comfortable and also a mere stone’s throw from the Tower of London, where we had spent the majority of our sun-filled day. Owned by renowned French chef Raymond Blanc, Mum had chosen the Tower Hill branch of Brasserie Blanc for our special evening meal, and I couldn’t wait to sample the menu.

Sleek and chic French styling was evident from the first, from the neat black awning and tidy white block writing decorating the exterior of the restaurant to the spacious and airy interior, painted a warming deep sage green, and the floor tiled with a dark green and white checkered pattern. Small ceiling spotlights threw plenty of light around the room, the majority of the space filled by dark wooden tables and chairs. Along the side of the restaurant that housed the windows overlooking the pavement and the Tower of London, there were horseshoe shaped booths, the woodland green leather upholstered seating arching around a similarly shaped black table. These booths had plenty of space and also held an air of intimacy and privacy that was ideal. The whole restaurant felt luxurious and very chic, yet it also felt accessible, and somewhere you could relax easily with friends as you attempted to mirror the stylishness of the decor. As we slid inelegantly into one of the booths, we were both pleased with our first impressions, now all the more looking forward to the meal ahead.

To drink, I ordered a wonderful glass of honey-coloured sauvingnon blanc with the most amazing fruity flavour; the passion fruit tones were fresh on my tongue, paired with the sauvingnon’s classically gooseberry palate. A beautiful wine in a French restaurant, surely I didn’t expect anything less?! Suitably watered with my lovely wine, we turned out attention to the a la carte menu in order to choose our starters. We decided to share the charcuterie for two; in some ways, there is nothing more satisfactory than a decent sharing platter. This one was loaded with salami slices, such as saucisson sec, as well as a selection of other cured meats, served in neat, wafer thin round slices. The platter also included chunkier slices of a meat that was a bit like haslet or stuffing, as well as a proscuitto style meat. Cut on the diagonal, two elongated slices of toasted baguette served as the basis for a blue cheese rarebit. I don’t typically eat or like blue cheese, however this melted and gooey option was actually delicious and I could eat it with ease. The blue cheese flavour as such was mild enough not to hinder my enjoyment of the rarebit, and I could get stuck into the oozy cheese with gusto.

On one side of the platter was a baby kilner jar, filled with picked vegetables, such as mini gherkins and pieces of cauliflower. The tartness of the vegetables was the perfect foil for the slimy salami, and I thought it was a great combo to wrap the individual vegetables in the various slices for a taste explosion. The the centre of the round grey plate was the obligatory pile of leaves. The platter was really delicious and had a decent amount of food for the two of us to share. I loved the pick and mix style of eating, just diving in with your fingers and pairing different salamis together with the other components on the board to create an array of different flavours and textures, although each item was also individually very yummy. This starter certainly whet the appetite for the meal ahead, and had us licking our lips for more.

Being in one of the homes of French cuisine, we simply had to try the Boeuf Bourguignon, which Mum reported had received rave reviews online. This rich beef stew was heartily filled with plenty of bacon lardons, full and rounded baby onions, mushrooms and a smooth red wine sauce. The beef was so tender than it simply fell apart at the merest prod from my fork, into a cascade of delicious pink morsels that soaked up the wine-fuelled sauce for an even deeper and more luxurious flavour than I thought possible. Chunks of carrot and celery bobbed in the pool of dark sauce on the  bottom of the large grey circular plate, and again I enjoyed pairing the different elements together for a variety of textures and flavours, all contained within the one dish. It was an excellent stew, hallmarking from rural France, and the beef was simply superb for a melt-in-the-mouth meat.

Instead of the creamy mash that was meant to accompany our matching stews, we decided to pick a few sides to share that were more up our street. For example, we opted for dauphinoise potatoes, which Mum loves, as well as a bubbling mac and cheese. We also ordered some roasted mixed vegetables, which contained vibrant chunky rounds of deep purple beetroot among more flavourful slices of white and orange from various root vegetables. The mac and cheese was a really generous portion for a side and was so silky and creamy to eat, also being very gently grilled on top for just the lightest hint of colour. Soft and full-on cheesy, this was decadent and rich in a very different way to the stew. The potatoes were simply lovely too, the super thin slices piled high in an individual white side dish, scattered with chopped chives on top. The potatoes were soft to eat with a slight skin on top, the milky sauce offering a vaguely creamy flavour that wasn’t too in your face but just enhanced the taste perfectly. The sides were really lovely and a great addition to the meal. 

Despite being so very full, I was not leaving without satisfying my sweet tooth, especially when I saw what was on offer on the dessert menu. My eye was instantly caught by the Pistachio Souffle, that would be served with a rich chocolate ice cream. Listing two of my favourite flavours in one, I had to have it, so I ordered it excitedly. And boy, it didn’t disappoint. When it arrived at the table, my jaw dropped in shock at how large it was; the souffle towered impressively from its ramekin into an enlarged muffin shape, with a lightly browned top. A single scoop of dark chocolate ice cream pooled meekly in a small white dish next to it. Eagerly diving into the souffle, I speared its wobbly top with my spoon, and was delighted to uncover an exuberantly soft green filling. The souffle was wonderfully light to eat, gorgeously fluffy and had a really natural and moreish pistachio flavour, as well as the nut’s memorable green colour. It really was one of the most lovely desserts I have ever eaten, and certainly a dish I had never tried before or seen since. It was really excellent. I even loved the light dusting of cocoa powder that had been put in the ramekin so that the souffle wouldn’t stick, as this simply added to the flavour. I would most definitely eat this again in a heartbeat. The chocolate ice cream was very rich since it used dark chocolate, and was the complete opposite to the airy and nutty souffle. A very special dessert in my book.

Mum and I had a wonderful evening at Brasserie Blanc. Not only was the restaurant stylishly casual yet elegant, but the service was good and prompt, and the food was dreamy. Staple French classics had been given the stardust of a Blanc makeover to transform them into magical dishes that we thoroughly enjoyed. I would definitely return and do it all again.

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Holiday Munchies: Café Rouge, Brindleyplace, Birmingham

Café Rouge is one of those popular chain restaurants that I’ve seen everywhere; at my local shopping centre, at pretty much every airport, and snuggled on many a high street corner. Despite the attractive red exteriors and wafting scents of French food, I had yet to sample what Café Rouge had to offer, and I was getting increasingly frustrated that our paths had yet to cross. When my husband whisked me away recently for a birthday weekend in Birmingham, it seemed an ideal opportunity to finally try out the oddly elusive yet everywhere Café Rouge. We booked a table for the Sunday evening of our trip.

Both Dan and I loved the atmosphere at Café Rouge; Parisian chic meets the comfort of a rural kitchen, with red leather booths and mirrored walls juxtaposed with overloaded cake stands and tea tables, pale wooden tables and a gentle hum of music filling the air. The spacious restaurant instantly felt relaxing and comfortable, with a kicked back vibe that was also inherently stylish – so far, so French.

As we were settled on a square table for two, with matching high backed dining chairs, next to the window, I ordered a large glass of Merlot and opened the brand new spring menu. After one glance I knew exactly what I wanted; the tarte flambee. With a flatbread base, this tart was topped with a generous layer of cream cheese, studded with sliced onion and cuboids of bacon. When it arrived, I tucked in heartily and certainly was not disappointed, as it was lovely. I’d even go so far as to say it was one of my favourite starters I have had out. I just really liked the pizza-style base paired with the light and creamy soft cheese topping. The cream cheese was also the perfect accompaniment to really let the match-made-in-heaven flavours of the pungent onion and the crispy, salty bacon sing. It was just really lovely and I polished it off very promptly while Dan tucked in to some prawns.

For main course, I opted to go classic French and choose the beef bourguignon. What could be more traditional than this slow-cooked beef stew steeped in a rich, thick red wine sauce? Among the tender chunks of falling-apart meat were button mushrooms, roasted carrots and juicy onions. A satisfying dome of herby, creamy, smooth mash peeked out from the lake of stew, with a wonderful coating of crispy, curly onions adding a final, crunchy flourish. A very well put together dish and totally tasty. The crispy onions was a really great addition and provided a great contrast in texture to the silky mash and hearty stew. The mash didn’t really taste herby, but that suited me as I’m not a huge herb fan so that was fine. At the end of the day, it’s a classic combination for a reason and that’s because these rural, home-grown flavours taste superb together, and done well, it’s a really satisfying and filling dish.

Because I’m greedy, we decided to order some extra sides too just so we could try more of the food. The spinach came in a lovely white boat-shaped dish, dressed very simply with some melted butter. It was really lovely. We also sampled some dauphinoise potatoes, another French classic with a soft underbelly of thinly sliced and sauce-covered white potatoes, topped with that lovely crispy shell that forms during baking. Always such a decadent side as it’s something we never have at home but truly tasty.

Despite being stuffed, I could hear the dessert menu calling me in a gentle undercurrent, whispering. I gave in quickly and ordered the Eton mess. What caught my eye with this dessert is that despite being a rather standard dessert item, Café Rouge had tarted it up a bit so to speak, by tossing in a few indulgent extras, such as vanilla ice cream and strawberry sorbet. It also featured the more traditional fresh raspberries and strawberries, as well as crushed meringue pieces and strawberry coulis.  When it arrived, I must confess I was very surprised at how small it was; it looked more like a kids portion to me, presented in a dinky fluted glass, a mint leaf balanced on top. It was more combined than an Eton mess usually is, with more of a smoothie feel and a creamier texture, the finely cut fruit and small pieces of meringue a bit more of a mission to find. Despite not being 100% as expected, it was refreshing and relatively light to eat so it earned points there, however it didn’t really tick my boxes in terms of what I look for in an Eton mess, so although nice, it wasn’t 100%.

To remedy this, I decided to treat myself to a final cocktail before closing in for the night. I decided to try the Le Bon Rouge, a retro little gin number that was served in a jam jar with a sliver of lemon and two raspberries bobbing on top. Containing gin, Chambord, raspberry jam and cranberry juice, I really loved this cocktail! It was full on fruity with the jam and liquor giving the drink an unusual depth of flavour for a cocktail, whilst it’s fruitiness still made it refreshing to drink, the darker berry fruits working well together.

I think we spent about £70 in all, for two starters, two mains, two sides, one dessert, one cocktail, a glass of wine and a soft drink, so price wise it is very reasonable, which is as you would expect from most chains nowadays. The service, although patchy at times, was on the whole good and the waiting staff were very pleasant and friendly. We both really enjoyed our meal here and Café Rouge is now a firm destination for future meals out.