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Review: Brasserie Blanc, Cheltenham

What do you get if you combine fancy French MIchelin-starred cuisine with a cool, laid-back Cheltenham vibe? A brasserie worth going out of your way for, that's what. We took a trip to Brasserie Blanc to find out whether it delivers the oh là là factor.

THE LOWDOWN

Brasserie Blanc is celebrity chef Raymond Blanc’s super-stylish gastro chain, having first flung open its doors 25 years ago there are now 20 of them dotted around the country, and Cheltenham’s lies in the heart of stylish Montpellier.

You’d be right for expecting quite a lot from the man who brought us the swanky Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire, and the brasserie doesn’t disappoint at first glance, offering modern French classics made with fresh and seasonal ingredients.

Hot news for 2021 is the newly zhush-ed up alfresco terrace outside the main entrance, which is a brilliant place to watch the world to go by. Overlooking the main drag which meanders up to the pretty Imperial Gardens next door, it’s a front row seat on Cheltenham’s coolest quarter.

THE VIBE

In two words? Trés elegant … Brasserie Blanc is housed in a former Regency ballroom, whilst it’s Bridgerton days may be far behind it, the long, graceful room still has huge window arches and wooden floors which give a nod to its opulent past. It feels fabulously French inside, with a jazzy jumble of wooden chairs and tables and a long leather bonquet to sink into.

There’s often a preconception that French dining is going to be snooty, but not here. There was no having to do the usual ‘shushing’ to the kids as we took our table, instead it felt relaxed and really chilled, the air thick with giggles and gin-clinking.

We came on the weekend of the Literary Festival when it was full to capacity. The crowd? As well as hoards of festival goers, it was a mix of friends hooking up for a bite to eat, families getting-together and business-lunchers

SCOFF & QUAFF

There’s a lot of competition in Cheltenham these days (the Brasserie is metres from the popular Ivy, and close to the 2-Michelin-starred Le Champignon Sauvage and GL50) so the bar was set high. But let’s not beat around the bush, headed up by a two-Michelin star chef, the food was destined to be superb. So how to truly test it? Bring the harshest food critics I know – my own kids! – which include one pizza-based 14-year old and a highly picky tween.

We started with the Baguette with Spiced Aubergine & Mushroom dip, Spicy Citrus Dip and Saffron Mayonnaise (£4.65). The first two dips scored really highly with everyone, and we all fought hard for the last scoop.

No authentic French restaurant worth its crème anglaise would be without snails, and at Brasserie Blanc Les Escargots (£6.95) are one of the signature starters. I know what you’re thinking, who drew the snail straw?! Not being a huge fan of them I wasn’t keen, but to my surprise, swept along by the thrill of a gastro-dare by his brother (and a very encouraging waiter) my 12-year old bravely ordered them.

Trying the escargots

The six little gastropods come presented in a chubby cubby hole dish which felt very rustic and Gallic, drenched in garlic and butter. To his credit he ate three before giving up, putting being beaten only down to the rich sauce. His verdict? ‘Slippery but actually really nice’ which was high praise indeed from a boy who normally only eats goujons. Special mention has to go to the waiting staff who go out of their way here to help kids decipher and choose things from a menu they probably have never experienced before, our waiter was an absolute joy from beginning to end, making them giggle about everything from sinking soufflés to winking snails!

There is a kids menu if you have littlies, which features all the usual suspects, from burgers to pasta, but the boys both went for the main menu as it looked so delicious.

Boy 2 had Morteau Sausage & Potato Salad (£8.95) below which was beautifully presented and full of deep and dark flavours he loved.

I liked sound of the Potted Cornish Crab with Avocado Guacamole (£8.95) and it did not disappoint. Not too fishy and lovely and light, the only bug bear being I’d have liked the toast slightly less crispy, but other than that is was a winner.

Mr Muddy had one of BB’s most loved dishes, the classic French soufflé (£6.95). They sell a massive 125,000 of these dinner party faves every year Soft, fluffy and extremely filling, it was exquisite with its creamy Wyke Farm Cheddar sauce.

It’s not all 80s dinner party classics though (good as they are) infact, the menu is pleasingly large and varied including several vegan dishes – with around 20 main dishes to choose from – so it feels like there is something for whatever your mood or lifestyle. I went for the Grilled Loch Fyne Salmon with Tomato Hollandaise (£14.95) which was simple, light and delicious.

The three carnivores I came with were in their element with the authentically French meat options. Mr Muddy went with the Coq au Vin with a Rich Red Wine Sauce and Dauphinoise Potato (£18.95). I had a serious case of lunch-envy with this one as it had the most moorish and decadent sauce, I challenge anyone not to be transported to a fireside brasserie in Burgundy with a mouthful of this.

The boys were very happy with their choices from the a la carte menu too, one went for the ‘Le Grand Steak’ – a Cornish rump 9oz steak with a Cafe de Paris herb and mustard butter (£19.95). He asked for it medium-rare and it came perfectly gauged, still oozing juices if you love that kind of thing, and really tender.

The other had the Sticky Beef with Coconut Rice (£17.50) which was slow cooked in a rich ginger, soy and lime sauce. He’s not one for exotic flavours usually but he absolutely wolfed it down.

Although we were all full to bursting there was no way anyone was leaving once we eyed up the desert menu. In a vain attempt to be healthy I went for the Poached Pear ‘Pain Perdu’ (£7.50) which had mouth-wateringly fluffy brioche French toast, a lime and ginger butterscotch sauce and a hidden honeycomb crisp.

We also tried the Stick Toffee Pudding (£6.95) which was super sweet and hit every spot for the kids.

The Baked Apple & Calvados Crumble (£7.50) was a nice fancy spin on ya average seasonal crumble and a fabulously warming wintery dessert.

Last but by no means least we feasted on the Chocolate & Orange Mousse Cup (£8.75). This is the kind of dessert you don’t forget in a hurry, oh my, if you try anything get this! Chocolate crumble comboed with orange cremeux all hugged in the most delicate dark orange shell. I don’t think Mr Muddy saw more than a spoonful.

WHAT ELSE?

We were mocktailing it due to driving (there’s a fabulous selection to choose from that taste just like the real deal). But one of Cheltenham’s best kept secrets has to be the BB’s Cocktail Happy Hour, drink as much as your liver will let you between 5pm and 7pm (it ends this week though so get your skates on!)

Fancy a Gallic Christmas get-together? Sack off the hours of prep and washing up this year and check out the Christmas menu instead. It promises to be an incredible Christmas feast with six delicious courses including Bucks Fizz for £95 per person, and £40 for children 12 or under.

MUDDY VERDICT

GOOD FOR: Lovers of simple, beautifully presented food. If you want a chic but informal place to scoff down hearty and handsome food at reasonable prices, it’s a 10 out of 10. Super for friends who want a chinwag in a chill setting and couples. Raymond Blanc-ophiles.

NOT FOR: There’s no grassy space, just the terrace, so if you have very young kids who like to run around they may want somewhere more spacious. There’s no parking for the restaurant, but you can usually find a space along the main road (failing that there’s a multistorey five minutes away).

THE DAMAGE: Prepare to be surprised. It was far more reasonably-priced than I had banked on. A full 3-course meal for 4 people, came to just under £140 which is really not bad for stand-out food with a Michelin pedigree. Whilst we were on the mocktails this time, we vowed to return sans-kids to sample the glorious-sounding French classics on the wine list.

Want to make a booking and see more? Head to www.brasserieblanc.com.

******** PLUS WIN! *********

We are giving away a SIGNED COPY of Raymond Blanc’s brand new book Simply Raymond. Packed with 100 new recipes enter here to win and up your kitchen game no end.

Raymond Blanc at Brasserie Blanc

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