Finer ElementsGreat RestaurantsRaymond Blanc Brasserie

We all love to eat and enjoy ourselves in an authentic brasserie. But finding one in Britain that offers the genuine brasserie experience has never been easy.

We all love to eat and enjoy ourselves in an authentic brasserie. But finding one in Britain that offers the genuine brasserie experience has never been easy—until, that is, Raymond Blanc launched his Raymond Blanc Brasserie, now in nine towns and cities across the UK. BY CHARLES FORD

If you travel around the country as much as I do, you must have encountered the same problem—where to eat at a modest price, with excellent quality and a pleasant ambience? Is this asking too much? Of course not, and the answer is: at Raymond Blanc Brasserie. Yes, you can now find superb brasserie food and ambience served up in Oxford, Cheltenham, Manchester, Tunbridge Wells, Leeds, Milton Keynes, Winchester and in Bristol.

Relaxed enjoyment

Nine Raymond Blanc Brasseries, and counting! What is Raymond’s raison d’etre here? “Brasserie Blanc is a place for relaxed enjoyment where I can offer you simple, high quality, seasonal food that comes as close as possible to the meals that my mother prepared for me at home in Besançon,” he tells me, “and at a price that encourages you to visit us regularly.” And there’s more …

“The real origins of French brasseries are lost in time and probably in several litres of beer but nowadays in France they are the bastions of good eating and drinking, locally and informally. I want my Brasserie Blancs to be a central part of the local community where you can have fun and enjoy particularly good food.”

Brasserie Blanc, Bristol

The Brasserie Blanc is situated in the superb Grade 1 eighteenth-century Quaker Meeting House that adjoins two stunning medieval halls, which Raymond has acquired for banqueting purposes — what a magnificent setting!

“Yes, I was stunned when I saw these building for the first time,” says Raymond, “and when I discovered that the halls had been used by Bristol’s guilds of Bakers and Cutlers, it all seemed to fit perfectly.”

Brasserie Blanc, Bristol, has also had the benefit of the city’s £500 million refurbishment of Cabot Circus, where the brasserie is situated, bringing new life to the old Quaker Meeting House which has been sensitively restored. And this, together with the superb and reasonably priced Raymond Blanc Brasserie menu, would surely cause the most austere Quaker brethren to raise their hats to Raymond Blanc (“Raymond, my son, wouldst that you were amongst us four hundred years ago”).

The concept

The Brasserie Blanc concept, as Raymond explains, is a deceptively simple one: “The Brasseries were born from something that is far more important to me than just eating, it is eating in good company. Not just any company of course, company you that means something to you; be they family, friends, lovers or even colleagues. This has its roots in exactly the same place as my love of food; the family table and the cooking of Maman Blanc. The food she produced season in, season out was the canvas to our family life; family meals were the centre of our lives.”

And was the launch of your first brasserie a great success all those years ago?

“I would love to be able to say that it was a resounding success, but with a certain amount of humility (a trait not learnt in my native France) I have to admit to the contrary. After a good start, the gravitational pull of the Manoir started to have an effect on customers and staff alike. Expectations rose higher and higher, though the cost of a meal did not. It was a bit like trying to win a Formula One race in a 2CV, however good a car it may be, the chances are slim to none. This episode did teach me one very valuable lesson: unlike the Manoir, where my constant presence ensures that my vision is made reality, running a restaurant (or any business) in varied locations means you need a team that not only shares the vision but lives it, breathes it and most importantly is capable of implementing it. This team needed to think like me and act like me. Where was I going to find a small army of Raymond clones?”

Brasserie reinvented

By 2006, Raymond had gathered a new team and set about the relaunch of his brasserie under the name Brasserie Blanc.

“Relaunch is probably the wrong word,” he says, “what we did was start again from scratch. I went back to what had inspired me in the very beginning. In fact the Brasseries are about the things that first made me fall in love with food, cooking and eating. Back to those family meals I love so much. Back to a simpler style…”

Simple, delicious, affordable, and with that all- important brasserie atmosphere, where the whole family is actively welcomed. Brasserie Blanc continues to offer these attributes across the country, with the next Brasserie Blanc opening soon in Portsmouth. Tip; Brasserie Blanc Oxford is where you are likely to see Raymond enjoying roast beef for Sunday lunch”