It’s been a few years since we dined in earnest at Brasserie Blanc in Leeds city centre and so we were looking forward to the experience.
Despite its central location on Sovereign Street, it occupies a somewhat secluded position. There’s no grand signage, no pomp and ceremony and for this reason you would be tempted to think this could be one of the city’s dining scene’s best kept secrets. And it would be, were it not for the fact that just about everyone worth their Himalayan rock salt knows about it. Well, at least enough to ensure the riverside restaurant was packed to the gunwales on a Thursday night, which is when we visited.
We pre-booked a table for 8pm and it was a good job too because there were precious few spaces left.
Brasserie Blanc is one of those places which puts you instantly at your ease. It’s all exposed brick and hardwood floors, low lights and the gentle chatter of countless conversations. There’s an understated elegance about the place, a rustic simplicity which belies the fact this is a la cart fine dining.
The brick vaulted ceiling, braced by metal girders, tells a tale of industry and toil and certainly the work ethic has not been abandoned here, because there’s an attention to detail, particularly with the food, that lifts it high above any run of the mill restaurant experience. Yes, the cutlery gleams and the glass shines, the service is pretty much faultless but the food outdoes them all.
While the menu is not big, it still manages to pack in plenty of choice. And to make sure you remember this as a proper dining experience, there are four courses, as opposed to the usual three.
So, we took full advantage of the ‘Aperitifs’ section and ordered anchovy appetiser (anchovy butter, anchovies, sourdough, £2.90) and trempettes (olive tapenade, saffron garlic mayonnaise, virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, baguette, also £2.90).
The olive tepenade was possibly one of the tastiest things I’ve had in a long time and yet is made with just three ingredients, olives, garlic and oil. Simple, fresh, full of flavour and punching well above its weight.
The anchovy appetiser again was everything I expected, an oily, salty smack of the sea coupled with anchovy butter and sourdough bread, which is slightly bitter with a satisfyingly rough texture and proved the perfect foil.
And so onto ‘Entrees’, of which there were 10 on the menu. I plumped for potted Cromer crab, expensive at £8.50. I was expecting something dazzling but in the end this was perhaps the biggest let down of the night, the crab a tad underseasoned. The dish consisted of avocado, shallot & coriander guacamole, prawn butter and toasted pain de campagne (French crusty bread). Ultimately, I think it needed something citrussy to cut through the textures of the crab and while you might instantly think of lemon here, I was yearning more for some skinned baked tomatoes on the vine.
My dining partner boldly went for steak tartare (£8.95), a squat tower of free-range (raw, obviously) Cornish beef cut through with pickles, a raw egg yolk right in the middle, herbs, and more sourdough to round it all off. To be honest, this was delightful.
Overall we were mightily pleased with our food up to this point. There was a bit of a delay between this and the main course but the place was still packed.
For my main I ordered roast Barbary duck with citrus sauce (£18.50), tender duck breast & leg confit, dauphinoise potato and ends-on pot-roasted carrots. Visually stunning and in terms of taste, out of this world. The duck was so easy to carve, each mouthful crammed with flavour. It was one of those dishes that just transports you to another time and place. I savoured every bit of that dish.
My partner vouched for the beef bourguignon (£16.50), a hearty, rich, warming dish comprising red wine, lardons, baby onions, mushrooms and smooth mash.
The mains were on another level. Yes, they’re more expensive than your average £12 bowl of chicken pasta but for that extra £6 you get so much more. If you went to a fine dining restaurant, you would expect to pay much more - this is fine dining without the price tag and all of the quality.
After our mains, we both wanted to just fall asleep - it was as though we’d both eaten the best Sunday lunch ever and now a comfy chair beckoned. But duty called, in the form of desserts and so it was a case of ‘once more unto the breach, dear friends...’
Six choices here: summer berry savarin, chocolate almond torte, ice cream sorbets, a baked citrus tarte, pistachio souffle and baked Alaska.
I went for the souffle (£6.50), while my opposite number settled for ice cream (£4.50), with scoops of pistachio and rum and raisin.
What can I say about the souffle, except I just hope they have them in heaven - they’re good enough, so that’s a start. Just simply outstanding, the flavour of pistachio laced with chocolate that just caught you every time at the back of the throat, making you want more, the texture something close to perfection - gooey and yet light. Real melt in the mouth stuff.
The place cleared out about 9pm and so in the space I’ve got left: staff were superb, polite, attentive, knowledgeable about the dishes (we asked several questions). They’ve certainly got their act together - the website offers more than the usual opening times and menus but also recipes, cooking tips and even videos.
In summary, I honestly do not know why I’ve not been here more often.
Address: Sovereign Street, LS1 4BJ
Open: 9am-10pm Mon-Fri (breakfast ‘til noon), Sat 9am-10.30pm (breakfast ‘til 11.30am), Sun 9am-9pm (breakfast ‘til 11.30am). Bar: 11am-midnight Mon-Sat/noon-11.30pm Sundays
Telephone: 0113 220 6060