Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre’s main streets, Brasserie Blanc sits quietly by the canal in a beautiful old brick Victorian building.
The Sovereign Street restaurant is the Leeds venue of top chef Raymond Blanc’s empire, and for French food fans such as us, it promised great things. As you approach the restaurant along the stone flags outside, you skirt past a terraced area which would be perfect to enjoy a glass or two of French vino by the water’s edge. A placed now logged by Oliver as one to remember for when the sun is shining.
But since it was overcast when we arrived, we hurried straight inside to be greeted by the friendly maitre d’.
We were a tad early so took up her offer of having a drink at the bar, which provided a good opportunity to survey the surroundings.
Despite it being a Friday night, the restaurant wasn’t packed out - but still had a cosy atmosphere. You feel the history of the building, with the beautiful brickwork and the low, vaulted ceilings and cream-painted metal pillars.
It’s a large restaurant, cover-wise, but the tables are cleverly spaced out so you’re not elbowing your neighbour. And with soulful music playing and the loud, unreserved chatter from the tables, the restaurant had a friendly and laid-back ambience. In the bar area, with its high tables and stools, we browsed the menus given to us by the maitre d’.
For the brave, there are traditional French dishes such snails or steak tartare - raw mince, served with an egg yolk and other accompaniments. It’s on Oliver’s list of dishes to order one day, but perhaps not tonight. Happily there were plenty of other dishes to tempt us - the salmon gravadlax with cucumber, creme fraîche and dill dressing was a tasty-sounding temptation but I plumped for the goat’s curd and avocado salad with tomato and chilli dressing (£5.95). My dining partner ordered the charcuterie board which had a selection of meats, pork rillettes, herbed Savoyard sausage, pickles and sourdough (£6.90).
For mains, the choice was tough, with options including a Barbary duck breast with a citrus sauce, or beef bourguignon with creamy mash. I ordered the salmon steak with Choron sauce and a choice of potato - chips for me (£11.90). And my dining partner ordered mackerel with a fennel and rocket salad with a lemon dressing (£13.50).
We had ordered a bottle of Muscadet as well as a couple of nibbles and as soon as we were shown our seats, these were quick to follow. The service was actually faultless and deserves a special mention. Wine was poured, a candle lit and our requested jug of water brought as we greedily tucked into the nibbles. The olives (£1.60) were delicious and very moreish. A word of caution however - they are served in a bowl of harissa oil...which dribbles everywhere (on clothes, in Oliver’s experience).
We also had trio of three dips (£2.90) - saffron garlic mayonnaise, tapenade and balsamic vinegar and oil. The waitress poured the oil into the balsamic at the table, which was a nice touch. The thinly sliced toasted baguette was perfect for scooping up the tapenade, smearing on the butter or dipping into the oil.
Shortly after we demolished those, our starters came.
The avocado and goat’s curd salad was divine. I was surprised the avocado was served guacamole-style, rather than in slices but it proved a nice texture to mix with the goat’s curd. The tomato and chilli dressing was subtle but a welcome addition to the plate.
My dining partner gushed about his charcuterie board, particularly the pickled vegetables - radish, carrot, celery, cucumber and gherkin. They were perfect at cutting through the saltiness of the meat, a highlight of which was the Bayonne ham.
The dishes were swiftly cleared away and we eagerly awaited our mains, while supping the crisp white wine.
I wasn’t too sure what Choron sauce was, but it tasted very similar to a Bearnaise sauce. A quick google found it is made of similar ingredients but with added tomato paste. Perfect for chip-dipping too. The salmon was delicious - served on a hot plate, practically still sizzling, and with a crispy skin. I also had a side salad of rocket, with Parmesan and a gloriously sticky balsamic dressing. My dining partner’s mackerel was cooked to perfection - two grilled fillets served on top of leaves and fennel slices. The dressing was milky in texture with a very lemon flavour. Although he admitted he felt a bit citrussed-out by the end and demolished most of my chips to counteract it.
Nonetheless it was a refreshing salad which worked well with the strong flavours of the mackerel. Despite being stuffed, we felt it rude not to order a dessert and we chose the crepe suzette for two, with Grand Marnier and vanilla ice cream (£12.50). It came to the table in a dish of six folded crepes, which the waitress then covered with Grand Marnier and lit at our table, to burn off the alcohol. Another nice touch and lovely bit of theatre. Needless to say they we polished off the lot. The crepes soaked up the orange flavour and melted the cold ice-cream to create incredibly tasty mouthfuls. We finished off the meal with two espressos, which perked us up after all that gluttony.
Our meal, with coffees and our drinks at the bar, came to £97. Having felt like we never waited long for food, we realised we had whiled away over two hours. And we noticed other diners who were there when we arrived, still there, enjoying the atmosphere and having a few drinks. I’m sure there’s a turnover of tables but you never felt rushed by the waiting staff. It was all so laid back and, well, rather French. I suspect the Leeds restaurant is doing Raymond proud. It all made for a lovely end of week meal - and perfect place to treat yourself.
Brasserie Blanc Leeds launches its summer menu on June 19.
Address: Victoria Mill, Sovereign Street, Leeds, LS1 4BJ.
opening times: Mon-Fri 12pm-2.45pm and 5.30pm-10pm; Sat 12pm-10.30pm; Sun 12pm-9pm. Bar open all day.