By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
“Are you aware of our concept here?” our waitress asks as my heart begins to sink, during a mid-week lunch trip to Blanchette in Soho. “Our menu is mainly made up of French tapas dishes,” she explains. French tapas? Is there really such a thing? As far as restaurant concepts go, anything overly extravagant or contemporary is generally something that’s never appealed to this writer, having been paced through the rigmarole of many an inexplicable dining experience in the past. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned simplicity? Inside, however, the decoration is refreshingly unassuming: rustic yet chic. Bare-brick walls are adorned with all sorts of French home kitchen regalia and posters, while the mismatched chairs placed around the tables are so quintessentially French, they look as though they’ve been plucked straight from one of Vincent Van Gogh’s bedroom paintings, and they’re nearly all occupied.
As for the menu, there’s also a resplendent blast of pastoral unfussiness, although the concept does sound a little peculiar at first. Highlighting a selection of adaptations of traditional dishes, created by the group of three French brothers who opened the place at the tail end of 2013. There’s also a lunch and pre-theatre menu that’s on offer here, reasonably priced at £19.50 for three courses (£15 for two). Starters include the likes of rich, fatty duck rillettes, served in a jar with a supplement of quince, pickles and a slice of bread. As is often the case with rillettes, the duck is a heavy on the oil, but this does work as a tasty spread. On the other hand, pork terrine is a little too gelatinous in texture, yet the flavour is very good and the accompanying onion chutney adds marvellous acidity to cut through the fat of the meat. Both dishes are, however, served upon tiny chopping boards that allow the food to slide onto the table top, which does become slightly bothersome as we tuck into our starters. Moving on, mains are served with a sharing bowl of fries with béarnaise sauce and a classic French salad. Another strikingly rich offering is the baked piperade working as the vegetarian main option, topped with a perfectly cooked duck egg with its amber yolk that pours into the tomato sauce covered vegetables. Smoked haddock croquettes, on the other hand, served in a decadent creamy sauce are an acquired taste to say the least. Potent flavours of smoked fish and cheese linger well into the rest of the day, there’s nothing outrageously dreadful here, but the robust wrestling flavours do struggle to harmonise with one another.
With three desserts to choose from, we’re both set on the plum rum baba – not only is this one of our favourite French desserts, this version includes the addition of plum for a flavour pairing that’s made in heaven – or at least we’d imagined. Instead of a sticky mess of boozy over-indulgent bliss, a sundae dish is provided with a slab of rum-soaked sponge that’s incredibly dense. We couldn’t help but wish we’d, instead, opted for the passion fruit Vacherin or the cheese plate. Although the dessert is disappointing, the overall experience at Blanchette is a pleasant one. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s an arduous task to find a satisfactory set menu at this price and at this reasonable standard elsewhere within this part of London.
Blanchette can be found at 9 D’Arblay Street, London, W1F 8DR.