I used to go to Brasserie Blanc on London’s Southbank regularly years ago. I don’t think it lost favour for any particular reason; I just tried other places and moved on. But last night, I went back. And I’m so glad I did.
I’m a regular theatregoer. Of all the cultural things I enjoy, great theatre is what excites me most and many of the most memorable plays I’ve seen over the years have been at the National Theatre. Last night I was there again with friend Louise to see The Visit, starring the brilliant Lesley Manville. I was slightly alarmed when an email from the theatre a few days ago let me know the play was four hours long. Four hours! Not even Shakespeare goes the four hours’ length. But it appeared this revival of a 1956 play by Swiss dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt did. So, I suggested to Louise that we needed a good meal and glass of wine to set us up for the evening! And Brasserie Blanc came to mind. Apart from the restaurants actually in the theatre, you can’t get much closer, so it’s an ideal location.
You step down at the front entrance into a huge basement area, which has been well designed to create a sense of being in a sophisticated French brasserie. I was shown at first to a table close to the till where the staff were hurrying back and forth so asked to be moved. That was no problem and I was given a table a little further in. Louise arrived, menus were brought, and I let the waiter know that we were going to the National and the play had an early start – 7pm – so we only had an hour to eat. I have to say that their response to our timing was excellent; it couldn’t have been better. All the staff who came to our table seemed to know we were on a tight schedule and everything came quickly but without us feeling hurried in anyway. Of course, offering a pre-theatre menu so close to the theatre means they should be well practised at this but in my experience that doesn’t always play out as well as it did last night. Our main waitress nicely joked that she was sure we’d have time for dessert if we wanted it – and we did!
The Pre-Theatre Menu is served 4.00-6.30pm and offers 2 courses for £16.50; 3 for £20. There was a special offer of a non-alcoholic cocktail offered with it, which sounded very good, but we were definitely in the mood for a glass of totally alcoholic wine to set us up for the long evening ahead.
There was a choice of 3 starters and Louise had Potted Ham Hock Terrine, Apple & Prune Chutney, Garlic Croutons. It looked good; a nice chunky terrine and Louise enjoyed it.
I had Braised Beetroot, Pear & Winter Coleslaw Salad, Walnut & Balsamic Dressing. I like salad starters and this was wonderfully fresh tasting with a nice combination of crunchy coleslaw and sweet, tender braised beetroot. (It felt – in a good way – very healthy too!)
Louise’s main course was Smoked Haddock & Saffron Risotto, Poached Egg, Lemon Butter, Grana Cheese. It looked fantastic and she was very enthusiastic about how delicious it was. The poached egg was perfectly cooked and broke open to a gorgeously runny yolk in the middle.
I chose Spiced Lamb Meatballs in a Roast Tomato & Garlic Sauce, Sauté Potatoes, French Beans. I wouldn’t immediately think of matching spicy meatballs with sauté potatoes … yet it was all so delicious that it worked and I enjoyed the dish. The spicy tomato sauce had a nice hot kick to it and my only slight complaint was that I would have liked a little more of it.
Yes we did have time for dessert, just as the waitress had promised. Louise chose Blood Orange Posset, Crisp Vanilla Biscuit. She was very enthusiastic about this course too!
I couldn’t resist Chocolate & Almond Torte, Crème Anglaise. It was gorgeous. The torte was wonderfully light as well as chocolatey. I had an espresso with mine.
We drank house wine at £5.15 for a 175ml glass. The final bill, including wine, was just under £30 each, including service. We thought this very good value for the meal we’d had. It had been a thoroughly successful and enjoyable return to Brasserie Blanc on the Southbank. Good food, excellent service and great value. I won’t leave returning so long again!
As for the play, sadly we didn’t last the 4 hours … we found it too one-dimensional; painfully slow and laboured, and decided to head home at the 2nd interval.