“ Address: 1 Gunwharf Quays / Portsmouth / PO1 3FR / England „
We had wanted to sample the delights of Brasserie Blanc in Gunwharf Quays one evening in October, but without a reservation we would have had to wait about an hour for a table. Late one Saturday afternoon in December, I rang to see if I could book a table for three for 3pm the following day, and luckily this was possible. As soon as we arrived on the Sunday, we were greeted by a receptionist who checked our reservation and led us past a beautiful Christmas tree to a table not far from a window from which there was a view of the canalside and the Spinnaker Tower.
Menus were distributed before we had even sat down. I was glad to find that plenty of coat hooks were provided.
Linen tablecloths are used but they are covered with white paper cloths set diagonally. Napkins are large linen ones. As well as the usual cruet, there is a bottle of oil on each table. We had wooden chairs with comfortable leather backs and seats, but I noticed that some tables had all wooden ones. We loved the colourful paintings, all depicting food, which contrasted well with the black and white photographs, some of Raymond Blanc teaching a younger chef, which hang above the counter. Behind the counter the kitchen area is clearly visible. We remarked on how clean everything was.
A Christmas menu, £25 for three courses, was available on the day of our visit but we hadn't come for anything quite so special and decided to order a la carte. An extensive drinks menu was handed to us but all we wanted was a glass of fruit juice each of a different flavour - orange, pineapple and apple (£2.10) which was served with ice. We were also brought a jug of tap water, with separate glasses of course. Starters range in price from £5.45 to £6.95 and in variety from Mediterranean fish soup through Burgundian snails in garlic herb butter to Maman Blanc's miscellany of salads. We decided just to share one of the aperitifs, however, which consisted of garlic mayonnaise, harissa olives, balsamic vinegar and slices of French bread served with butter (£2.75). This is intended for one person, but as our serving of bread was replenished it was more than enough and did not spoil our appetites. The garlic mayonnaise in particular was gorgeous, and the waitress commented herself on how much she liked it.
The main courses on the lunch menu start at £8.75 for Swiss chard and cep mushroom lasagne and rise to £17.00 for Roast Barbary duck breast with blackberry sauce and Dauphinoise potatoes. There is also a selection of grills priced between £15.00 and £26.50. The waitress came along with a blackboard indicating the day's special, roast beef, roast potatoes and a selection of vegetables for £14.50. The fact that the beef was medium rare made us decline this option. My son's partner decided on Loch Fyne mussels in white wine and cream served with chips (£13.00). My son and I both considered the lasagne as well as Raymond's smoked River Avon salmon and trout fish cake (£11.00) but eventually both ordered Beef Stroganoff with pilaf rice (£10.25). I don't usually go for red meat but felt that this could be a good occasion to do so for a change. Side salads and vegetables can be ordered, mostly for £2.75, but our waitress thought the mussels and chips would be fine on their own and I certainly thought my main dish would be filling.
Soon after we had ordered the waitress brought a finger bowl for the mussels along with a soup spoon, as she explained that a lot of people like to drink the sauce of the mussels like soup after they have finished eating. It was a while before the food was served, as you would expect, but not overly long. The mussels came in their cooking pot with chips in a small side dish. The stroganoff was served in deep round plates, each with a mould of garnished rice in the centre. Our immediate reaction was that the sauce tasted wonderful and was of a perfect consistency but that the beef was not as tender as we had thought it might be. Slices of mushroom were plentiful alongside the beef. The mussels were highly appreciated as were the chips, and yes, my son's partner enjoyed the sauce so much that he did use that soup spoon. The waitress was passing as he did, and she chirruped 'I knew you would!'
My son had no hesitation in saying he wanted to see the dessert menu, so we were each brought one on a small card. The waitress mentioned that there was also a chocolate tart with coffee crème anglaise for a mere £3.50 - the coffee-chocolate combination and the modest price meant my mind was immediately made up. My son decided on apple and blackberry crumble (£5.20) but his partner wanted something light so he picked the selection of ice creams (£5.50). Four scoops of ice cream are served, and he chose coffee, chocolate, pistachio and hazelnut. Strawberry and vanilla were also offered.
We were all delighted with our desserts when they arrived. My chocolate tart was rich in flavour without being too sweet or sickly, and the coffee crème added interest to the taste. The ice cream was drizzled with two kinds of coulis and sandwiched between two irregular-shaped wafers. The crumble was topped with a scoop of ice cream and looked delicious - something I would definitely try another time.
My son and his partner decided to order tea and coffee as they were going to the cinema and still had a little time to kill. I would like to try the coffee there, but I was feeling very full and it was a little late in the day for caffeine so I contented myself with my glass of water. The coffee was declared to be very good, so that's a perfect excuse for me to go back.
Our bill came to £60.55 to which we added a tip. I could remember that the last time the three of us had been to Rosie's Vineyard in Southsea we had paid the same amount there. Whilst the food at Rosie's is always very good, the service is not up to the standard of the Brasserie Blanc. The previous Sunday my son and I had waited half an hour at Rosie's just to place an order. The furnishings and décor at Brasserie Blanc are also superior to Rosie's. I should emphasise that the prices on the dinner menu are higher than those on the lunch menu at Brasserie Blanc. It is also worth mentioning, however, that some dishes are available in smaller portions and at lower prices for children.
I visited the ladies upstairs and found it to be extremely clean. Two bottles of liquid soap were provided: it was a French brand called 'Le Cuisinier' and was intended for cooks, to remove lingering odours. Two bottles, but three washbasins - had somebody pocketed a third bottle? I was amused to find 'The Fox and the Grapes', one of Lafontaine's fables, written out in French as I climbed the stairs, and I lingered to read it. When I got to the top of the stairs, there was the English translation. On returning to our table, I realised that another of the fables was written along the top of one wall, again translated on the adjacent wall. A lovely touch.
Just by the entrance are some shelves displaying French foods such as jars of conserves and packets of biscuits, any of which can be purchased. There are also one or two books by Raymond Blanc. If you arrive early or have to wait for a table, there is an area where you can sit and have a drink by the bar.
The only criticism I would make from my first visit to Brasserie Blanc would be that the beef was not as tender as I had expected it to be. Other than that, I cannot find fault at all with the menu, the food, the service or the ambiance. The dinner menu is a little out of my price range, but I am sure we will return to Brasserie Blanc every now and again for lunch. It stands head and shoulders above almost all the other restaurants in Gunwharf Quays at the present time. Raymond Blanc's wish was to create a relaxing atmosphere in which to enjoy good food similar to that cooked by his mother, and he has surely succeeded here.
Tel. 023 9289 1320
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Brasserie Blanc lives up to expectations. Having on one very memorable occasion eaten at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons I was somewhat apprehensive about eating in a Raymond Blanc Chain. One never knows how much actual influence the figure head has in these ventures. Given the quality and presentation of the food I would say RB has a high level of input in his brasserie chain. The portions are exactly the correct size to eat three courses and feel neither hungry nor over filled at the end of the meal; not an easy feat to accomplish. The quality of the food is superb; the service is both highly attentive and unobtrusive. The location is pleasant and nearby other Gunwharf attractions you my wish to visit after dinner. The prices are quite high when making comparisons with other establishments in Gunwharf; they do however reflect the high end market and given that make good value. There is a nice bar/sating area to have a drink either before or after your meal and a special set menu offering good value is available in addition to the a la carte.
Brasserie Blanc is Raymond Blanc's latest Brasserie opening and Gunwharf's newest restaurant, having opened on April Fool's Day 2009.
The restaurant is at the foot of the "lipstick" building in Gunwharf, an average sized restaurant with a glass frontage. On entering the Brasserie there is a small bar area to your right, a small shop selling foody French items on the immediate left of the door, the Brasserie's seating area is to your left. The kitchen is on view to the diners with a large, prominent table directly in front of the kitchen for those who want to see exactly is going on. There is a good variety of available tables so all party sizes can be catered for. A nice touch is the numerous coat racks attached to the numerous pillars which means that you don't have to leave your jacket on the back of your chair but it's still in plain sight.
Onto the reason you go to a restaurant - the food. There are two available menus the fixed price one and the a la carte one. The fixed price menu in the evening is £18 for 3 courses with a glass of wine, or for an extra £2.50 you can upgrade to a glass of the house champage. There are also cheaper 2 course and afternoon options. The fixed menu apparently changes every month and you can preview it on the restaurant's website. There are 3 options for each course and these are not offered on the a la carte menu. As yet I have not sampled the fixed price menu so I can't comment on the portion sizes etc.
The a la carte menu has a variety of options, with a serving of highly recommended appetisers - bread with garlic mayonnaise, olive tapinard (no anchovies in it currently) and a balsamic vinegar for £3, starters priced around the £8 mark, main courses mostly between £10 and £20, side dishes £3, and desserts £5 on average. All the meals have a French name but I'm not sure they would all be considered traditional French meals. There is a good variety of meat and fish options and a separate steaks and grills options, however in my opinion there are not many vegetable only meals - one starter and main. All the food my friends and I have eaten there has been very well cooked , with the first noticeable thing about each plate of food being the wonderful smell emanating from the plate. The portions are generous, especially the plate filling beetroot and goat's cheese tartlet, and most main courses do come with a serving of potatoes/chips and a small portion of vegetables - green beans seem to be a favourite!
The waiting staff are attentive but not pushy and they have a good knowledge of the food the Brasserie serves. I have only been there on week nights and early Saturday evening so I can't comment on the quality of service when they're really under pressure.
The facilities are still immaculate as should be expected of a brand new restaurant, the only slight issue being when you try to return to the restaurant from the toilets it can be a little confusing with more doors to the kitchen than to the restaurant.
This is definitely my current favourite Portsmouth restaurant, with a relaxed, slightly upmarket atmosphere and extremely tasty food, and I plan to make regular visits in order to fully sample both menus. The only reason I haven't given it 5 stars is because of the limited veggie options.