Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published December 13th 2016
An Evening in Paris
Blanchette, 9 D'Arblay Street
Hidden in the maze of Soho, a little French Bistro is waiting to be discovered. Perhaps not the easiest of tasks as it is located on D'Arblay Street, a small and insignificant back road lost within London's web. With all the big restaurants your have walk past with blinkers before reaching it, Blanchette is unlikely to be found unless you've taken a wrong turning or know specifically where to look.
The Parisian-style bistro is relatively new, having been founded in 2013 by three brothers: Maxime, Malik, and Yannis. They named Blanchette after their mother and believe gastronomy is not just about eating, but also pleasure, freshness, and conviviality. With this in mind, they serve their classic yet quirky cuisine as small dishes for the intent of sharing.
I had not expected tapas style dining when I arrived, but was very pleased it was, because it meant my dad and I could select several dishes instead of having to choose just one each. The menu is well balanced, with an equal number of fish, meat, and vegetarian dishes, as well snacks, starts, cheeses, a charcuterie, and desserts.
On the front of it, the prices seem very reasonable, with mains ranging from £7.25 to £12. On reflection, however, the fact that you need to order several dishes for a full meal does make it a bit pricier than initially expected. With cocktails at £10, drinks are also on the steep side, but given we are in Central London, the overall pricing is probably better value than many other restaurants you might visit.
Although small, Blanchette is well laid out, with a combination of chairs, booths, and bar stools for seating. The latter is somewhere you would choose only if eating alone, just popping in for a quick bite, or because everywhere else is full. It does, however, give an intimate view of the chefs at work, which can be interesting to watch.
Dad and I were taken to the back of the room, where I got to admire the beautiful old brick walls up close. The shelves were adorned with shabby chic decorations, such as opaque mirrors, old books, and vintage posters.
Trying to decide which beer to have, Dad asked the couple next to us what they thought of the Gallia French larger. After recommending it, we ended up having a friendly chat, which would not have been possible in larger, louder restaurant.
We were served by a lovely waitress who explained the sharing process to us and recommended that we had two or three dishes each. As this was my first time at a French restaurant and I have never had French cuisine before, I wanted to try a classic for the starter: frogs legs. These deep fried in a crispy batter with a pot of rose marie sauce. Like all the food, it was beautifully presented on a wooden board, and wrapped in a faux French newspaper as if it were takeaway fish and chips.
The spicy batter, while delicious, did overshadow the frogs legs themselves. The frog legs had a very delicate flavour, which became lost with the outer coating.
Dad chose the second starter: duck rillettes. It was served with toast, spiced red cabbage sweetened with cranberry, and a portion of salad and mini gherkins, which had notes of lemon vinegar.
For our fish course, I wanted to try the squid, which was served on toast, seasoned with a parsley and tomato sauce, and a helping of black ink. At first, I wondered why the squid was like no other squid I had ever tried before. It had the same wonderful taste, but the texture was most unusual; it melted in the mouth - almost slithered. We then realised that although warm, the squid had been served raw like sushi. I would never knowingly eat raw fish, so the surprise gave me a chance to experience something completely new. Overall, I thought the flavours were gorgeous, but I couldn't get to grips with the texture.
Dad chose pork ribs for the meat course. I don't like pork, but I could, tell how well it had been made. Chargrilled with a honey glaze, I first thought it was too sweet, but then I spotted that the wooden board had pink rock salt sprinkled on the side. Pretty though this presentation was, it did make it more difficult to transfer onto the meat. But once it had been sprinkled on top the pork transformed almost into a different dish. I loved the croquettes that accompanied it. They had a surprise filling of - not potato, but - creamy mushy peas.
Our vegetarian dish was probably one too many. Four dishes filled us up plenty. The green bean salad was my least favourite, partly because it was a cold dish, and partly because I felt there was a bit too much dressing. The combination of ingredients, however, worked superbly. The cheese and walnuts tasted beautiful in the lemony dressing, but I would have liked the beans to have been hot.
I was too full to the gills to be interested in a pudding, but Dad seemed to have room for a creme brûlée - and since two spoons were brought out, I ended up having half too. While I don't think I could have coped with a heavy pud, the lightness of this cool and creamy dessert was very refreshing at the end of our meal. It had strong vanilla notes, a warm caramel topping, and was served with lightly spiced ginger biscuits.
Not originally having intended to eat a dessert, I decided to treat myself to a liqueur called orange bliss. Bliss it was. The icy glass of Baileys, Cointreau, orange peel, and cinnamon was absolute heaven. I rarely drink, so the fact that I was able to slurp this down within about a minute is testimony to how delicious it was.
For my first experience of proper French cuisine, Blanchette left me very impressed, and I would be more than happy to dine there again and try some of their other dishes. As well as their restaurant, Blanchette has a private hire room in the basement. Called the Jungle, the walls are hand painted with a mural of the rainforest and is a place for small parties of up to fourteen people.