Once upon a time the world was full of French Restaurants and you couldn’t swing a baguette in your local High St without hitting a hot pot of Cassoulet. In recent times new restaurants have opened up from other gastronomic regions and the competition has led to a noticable demise in French eateries. After all, why have Coq au vin, when you can dine on Zimbabwean marinated wildebeest, garlic crickets and lightly toasted scorpion?
But wait! Don’t despair, there are still a few places left where French cooking is alive and well and just two minutes away from the madness of Soho on D’ably St in Central London there lives a lovely little French Restaurant called Blanchette.
Blanchette seems an open secret as even at 9.30pm on a cold midweek night in February there is a small queue of hungry aficionados waiting patiently at the door for a table. Inside there’s a long welcoming bar stretching down one side and the bare brick walls are adorned with Kitsch record covers and junk shop nik-naks are positioned on well worn farmhouse sideboards.
The dinner plates and chairs are all different and the warm glow from the candle style ceiling lamps welcomes you like a long lost Nan to her bosom. It’s very cosy and random and eclectic, maybe that’s why it feels so homely too.
Blanchette is Parisian Dining, tapas style. It might seem a strange idea, but it works well and you can try lots of dishes in one visit. If you’re not completely ravenous you can order a bottle of wine (try the Les Creisses Philippe Chesnelong, it’s smokey and fruity) and while away the evening with a couple of dishes for comfort.
There are regular daily specials, my friend and I however order 6 dishes between us straight from the ‘regular’ menu. Things arrive quickly – as soon as they’re ready – and one dish perfect for sharing is the ‘Smoked Haddock Croquettes “a La Arnold Bennett” – £7.50′ it’s light, fresh and crunchy. Fab is the ‘Green Been Salad with Aged Comté Cheese, Shallots and Walnut Dressing £7.25’, a clean and zingy contrast from the meat dishes.
For the traditionalists, Frogs legs are available (yes, I know they taste like chicken), but for a truly carnivorous plate of joy, the incredibly tender ‘Thinly sliced Rib-eye with warm charred red peppers, Vermouth and Aioli – £10’ is completely melt-in-the-mouth. Talking of which, another meaty dish worth a mention is the ‘Braised Lamb shoulder with Anchovy, Rosemary and SoubiseSauce – £9.75 – stunning.
Recommended too are the ‘Steamed Cornish Mussels with Rode Petal Harissa and Safron – £7, – they mussels are incredibly plump and apparently fresh from the boat that morning.
The chefs obvious passion and enthusiasm for the food permeates through to the waiting staff, who are happy and eager to please and Blanchette is reaping the benefits of doing simple things really well.
Later, if you still have room there’s a good choice of French cheeses, including a soft goats ‘Chèvre de Saint-Claud’. There’s also some good sweet-tooth desserts including a fantastic ‘Vanilla Bavarois with Poached Yorkshire Rhubarb and Pate De Fruit’ for £6.25.
Incidentally, if you’re not a wine drinker they do a suitably named ‘French Kiss’ cocktail featuring vodka,raspberry liqueur, Grand Marnier orange liqueur and cream. With the right person it could be a great place for romance, or if you’re planning a party, there’s a cool private dining area downstairs available for groups of up to 16. Called the ‘Jungle room’ it features a hand-painted rain forest mural by Aldo Gigli.
For the atmosphere, warmth, attention to detail and that ‘Je ne sais pas’, Blanchette est ‘La belle vie’ (and long may it continue).
9 D’Arblay St, London W1F 8DR
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