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Brasserie Blanc

Joe Stretch, author of Friction, reviews food – the first novelist to ever review a restaurant in Manchester

Published on February 4th 2008.


Brasserie Blanc

For days on end I’d been living off crap. My kitchen was closed to me. I’d been floating, unwashed and full of myself, from interview to interview, promoting my novel. I was undernourished in every sense. I felt dry. I hadn’t been drunk in ages. My head was a bag of crisps, disappointingly empty, it made irritating sounds when I moved. What I wanted seems so clear to me now. I wanted a little bit of the joyous. I wanted to snack on a higher life. I was starving. When it was suggested to me that I could combine an interview about my novel with a meal at Brasserie Blanc and could even review the restaurant, I salted the hand that made these offers and bit it off its body.

There was a degree of sex and a degree of beauty but, annoyingly, someone had invited the sexless, frigid character of Standardised Serving Techniques to the gastronomic orgy, making it harder to make love, to eat, to enjoy.

I think we’re pretty savvy, us lot, the Western humans. Gone are the days when we would blush and be impressed when confronted with the slick, standardised, American-influenced behaviour that multinational food franchises demand of their serving staff. We know the drill nowadays. We know how it works. We know about the training days that young people are sent on in order to master the art of saying hello in a branch of Café Rouge or Chez Gerard or whatever. We have seen Subway describe their staff as ‘artists’, and we have winced.

Speaking from experience, in the past I have worked hard for both Est Est Est and Burger King. I have sat in rooms full of kind, articulate people and had the living beaten out of us and replaced by rules, hard selling, up-selling, seven step flogging rituals. It’s bollocks. It was depressing. And, nowadays, I’m no longer standing beside the table, notepad in hand, but sitting, staring at the menu in the restaurants themselves. It continues to be depressing.

I went to Brasserie Blanc not just hoping for good food but hoping for an impressive, stylish, charismatic, cosmopolitan atmosphere and, sadly, I’m pretty sure I didn’t get it. Crucially, it wasn’t the staff themselves that depressed me. On the contrary, the waiters at Brasserie Blanc are, to a man, handsome, cool, clean with refreshingly complex facial hair on their chins.

There was a degree of sex and a degree of beauty but, annoyingly, someone had invited the sexless, frigid character of Standardised Serving Techniques to the gastronomic orgy, making it harder to make love, to eat, to enjoy. I felt that the staff of the Brasserie Blanc were handcuffed by silly “say ‘bon appetit’ when you serve the mains” type rules. Their charisma was stifled by customer service rituals invented by cash hungry tit wrenches in southern rooms. They were polite, exciting guys, they knew about the food, but through no fault of their own, the odour of rules rose from the food.

Given the situation, I thought it polite of my companion to order the Lemon Sole. If Brasserie Blanc lacks anything, it’s a bit of lemon soul (£16.95). I ordered pate (ox tongue and chicken liver with pickles - £5.50) and wine. The wine was ace. All meal the wine was great. Fond, as I am, of immoral meats, I ordered veal with mashed potato with green beans (£14.50). The meat was overcooked and the sauce a little confused.

Brasserie Blanc is airy and pleasant, even beautiful if the sun happens to be shining on Manchester city centre. The menu contains lists of French food, all of which sound alright. Its customers shimmer, successful as they are, smartly dressed, healthy heads, nodding about business.

For half the price in Paris you can visit smaller, more humble restaurants with relaxed atmospheres, rude and entertaining waiters and food cooked with more passion and less tedious attention to aesthetic detail. It seems to me that Brasserie Blanc is a victim of its own efforts to seem upmarket. All the mock formality and gratuitous use of the French language in the world cannot hide the fact that it is, in essence, just another franchise. It has more in common with the buttock-clenching Franceland of Café Rouge than with the cool food of the Marais.

By all means go, because the food is pretty good and you can at least rely on a franchise to function quickly and effectively. Plus the wine gets you drunk and when you’re in good company, as I was, then one can use one’s own humanity to bring real life to the restaurant. And, if I’m honest, there’s part of me that takes a perverse pleasure in watching humans battle with corporate directives. There was a glint of ironic rebellion in the eye of the waiter as he wished me “bon appetit”. I liked that.

Rating: 12.5/20
Breakdown: 6.5/10 Food
3/5 Service
3/5 Ambience
Address: Brasserie Blanc
55 King Street (Off Chapel Walks)
Manchester
M2 4LQ
T: 0161 832 1000
F: 0161 832 1001www.brasserieblanc.com
Mon-Sat noon-11pm

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46 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Burt CocaineFebruary 4th 2008.

Lovely tasting article, although his picture suggests Scottish Intellectual Indie Outfit rather than writer, but them words he's sticking out of his face are scrumptious. I haven't visited this place (or it's latest incarnation) in years but always had a decent, relaxed and enjoyable evening/afternoon there. Not so good if it's now gone corpulently corporate t*ts up.Piccolino's (hmm...another 'chain') is a top notch restaurant and pretty much receives glowing reviews (erm, aside from the one above).

NingeFebruary 4th 2008.

eee he's gorgeous.. anyone know him?

JohnthebriefFebruary 4th 2008.

There's a place for writing like that.It's in Private Eye, under the heading "Pseuds Corner". Meanwhile, please spare us this vacuous crap

Blue PeterFebruary 4th 2008.

Johnthebrief is spot on. Who told this hopeless pseud he could write? His review reads like the meanderings of a sixth form creative writing class. Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, I started to lose the will to live a few lines in. 'My head was a bag of crisps'! Hardly Norman Mailer is it? Oh and by the way, A A Gill is respected restaurant critic who can actually write.

CliveFebruary 4th 2008.

John the Brief? Are you a lawyer? And your telling this guy to stop talking vacuous crap! Oh the irony. Brilliant review Stretch-fella.

JimFebruary 4th 2008.

Pretentious? It's bloody brilliant. Loved it. Very elegant writing indeed, ask him back. Also he's right, what is it with Blanc's faux francais? It's a starchy and tedious place.

Gloria1504February 4th 2008.

Blummin 'Eck.......that was poetry not a restaurant review......

lisaFebruary 4th 2008.

can anyone suggest a restaurant/bistro in manchester that's reasonably priced and NOT hideously, corporately starched to the point of rigor?

Would-be NovelistFebruary 4th 2008.

Ninge, he gave a talk at Man Met to the MA students and I can confirm that he is, in fact, far more delicious than anything on the Brasserie Blanc menu. And his book is filthy too. Yum.

Jerzy (George) W. J. BergierFebruary 4th 2008.

Lisa - take a cab or a bus, travel to Didsbury and dine at Jem and I... I had a meal at this relaxed, well decorated, spacious Restaurant last Tuesday and what a meal it was. I must say that from the starters, main courses (I do not do the deserts) right throught the service, wines, the quality other beverages, polite and knowledgable Staff all was perfect, and without inflated prices. One very important point of note was the detailed explanation of daily specials from the blackboard by very pleasant young waitress. Staff training at its best! Credit to owners. Keep it up!

uncorkedevents.co.ukFebruary 4th 2008.

I really like going to Brasserie Blanc, I think the food is good, not too over priced and the service is always swift. Ideal for a quick lunch whilst shopping, not best suited to an evening meal.....it is a Brasserie after all!

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2008.

This has got echoes of the Flic Everett free for all last year. What a nasty bunch of people there are out there. I like this review too. Great writing. Fuck off and read something else if you don't like it, you uneducated oik.

NingeFebruary 4th 2008.

Geez.. when I was at uni all we got was a trip to Salford Quays.. rock on.. He spoken for? Can't beat a bit of filth...

GJHFebruary 4th 2008.

Lisa - head out to West Didsbury and try Rhubarb.

GoateeFebruary 4th 2008.

I dont know why i had to be brought into this debate

CarlosTheJackalFebruary 4th 2008.

What a poseur. Restaurant reviews should be lightly drizzled in pretentious prose, not drowning in it. I naturally wish the fearsomely-talented Mr Stretch well with his forthcoming publication, but please, Gordo, make sure he gives you your review-writing pen back.

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2008.

Fantastic review - and so true! What could be a good concept spoilt by soul destroying crap from corporate managers in London!

JohnthebriefFebruary 4th 2008.

I'll get my coat then, shall I ?

Blue PeterFebruary 4th 2008.

Thanks for that Jim. I'll just wait for him to grow up then.

CarlosTheJackalFebruary 4th 2008.

Anonymous - if you read the 15th comment down (someone pretending to be you, no less), you'll see some very harsh criticism of Jem & I. Mr Stretch is all over ManCon this week - who's he sleeping with in order to merit such ubiquity?

TimLJFebruary 4th 2008.

Burt maybe your problem lies with your surname maybe it's not allowing you to think clearly. But it's good to see scrupulous ranters who feel guilty about their bewilderingly hasty postings. As for the review it reads beautifully. Says bugger all about the food but what it does do is surprise. And with reading, as with food, to read something that is surprising is well...surprising. For that alone I want more of this Manchester Confidential. Any ****er can do a restaurant review look at Cheshire Life, but few entertain you.

A SmitheeFebruary 4th 2008.

How ironic- someone who needs the world to know the 'importance' of his occupation (JtB) is suggesting that the reviewer be admitted to Pseuds Corner. Brasserie Blanc- never better than average. Good review though, shades of a working man's AA Gill.

Dave the raveFebruary 4th 2008.

It is particularly interesting that you should have a professional author coming up with an opinion on a restaurant like this. Groundbreaking, I can't say that, but definitely an unusually good read and one you won't find in the pisspoor MEN. I agree with your last anonymous. Take no notice of negative people like John the Brief who obviously have an axe to grind.

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2008.

I love the review, nothing quite like reading short prose whilst learning about a restaurant.In response to the comment about Jem&I in Didsbury... I had a great time when I went, try the mussels!

GordoFebruary 4th 2008.

Cat got yer tongues?

LouiseFebruary 4th 2008.

How can this review score the same as the one last week about the Living Room? On my visits,Brasserie Blanc and formerly Le Petit Blanc have had good food and good service which is more than can be said for places like the Living Room!

shiveringgoatFebruary 4th 2008.

Stick to writing fiction - rubbish review! Brasserie Blanc is a great place to eat - I've been to Oxford, Manchester and Leeds - its not fine dining its not meant to be! - its healthy well priced food and their special lunch menu is a bargain - if you think you can get anything cheaper in The Marais you are sadly mistaken.

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2008.

Jomov, have you missread the comments? NOBODY is slating Jem & I, it is the best place in MANCCHESTER.

Burt CocaineFebruary 4th 2008.

^^ Ooh this is a bit spontaneous...I couldn't edit...I meant to say Piccolino's is very good (which I did) but then Jem and I 'pretty much receives glowing reviews (erm, aside from the one above)'.Sorry.

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2008.

I agree. Fantastic review! And he gets three separate articles on here too. Amazing. Keep it up!

jomovFebruary 4th 2008.

Sorry I have to disagree with the person slating Jem & I, I'd have to say it was one of the better eating establishments in the whole of Manchester...

JinkiesFebruary 4th 2008.

Waiters suggesting "ironic rebellion" and with "refreshingly complex facial hair on their chins"... That actually makes me want to visit the restaurant irrespective of anything you could have said about the food. Wonderful review

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2008.

Review the restaurant. Don't use the space in an attempt to flaunt your writing abilities. By doing so you appear like a fool who's missed the spot.

elegant divaFebruary 4th 2008.

lisa , get yer glad rags on and get up to gastros on sackville st . its got a bit of flair , great food , the head waiter is barking and the whole experience is consistent .....do it Baby

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2008.

Whilst I whole-hearted agree with the preference for natural, non-choreographed service and flair, I think in our society of increasing complaining-ness and litigiousness, many of the "reasonably priced" venues opt for corporate patter as a safe option. Shame though.

ImpressedFebruary 4th 2008.

Don't listen to them Mr Stretch. For those who want the facts, this is an informative review. But for those of us who long for more than a full stomach from our restaurant experiences - your piece is insightful and entertaining also. There are many reasons why dining in Manchester is almost always disappointing, and these are not always simply to do with the cooking. Your review was illuminating and enjoyable and there's room for a lot more of your style of writing on these pages.

Paul CarterFebruary 4th 2008.

Brassiere Blanc is crap!There, who needs five hundred words when you can say it in four.

MatthewFebruary 4th 2008.

I agree with GJH - Lisa, get yourself down to Rhubarb!

mFebruary 4th 2008.

bloody hell, you lot. What are you like? Its only a one-off review and he's written it in his own style to let you see how his book might read. He's not a food critic and I enjoyed the way he didn't pretend to be, choosing to focus on an observation he's made rather than the food. He knows where his talents lie so why change just to fit in to a restaurant reviewer's standard template?

JimFebruary 4th 2008.

Blue Peter how can you call anyone a pseud with a name like that? You're wrong this is good writing, as good as anything by Gill - or will be when the writer's older. Clearly you don't read that much or have one of those mechanical minds that likes it done to a tried and trusted formula.

mark mFebruary 4th 2008.

i agree. great review of a crap restaurant.more please MC

LLynys LLynFebruary 4th 2008.

I should like to take this seemingly nice chap to the Living Room in either Manchester or Liverpool. There he would find plenty of monstrous inspiration for his books and would be too afraid to write about it in such chocolate terms.

JohnthebriefFebruary 4th 2008.

Well I've eaten at this place twice. The first time was on a Valentine's day when I took my fiancee, and we were put on a set menu conveyor belt of pre-prepared food that had us out of the door again in under an hour so they could rip off as many as possible in the course of the evening. The second time was for a dinner with some work colleagues, two of whom went down with food poisoning as a result. Never again.

KevinFebruary 4th 2008.

Get more on like this, an excellent piece, and sack John the Brief!

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2008.

Speaking of eating out in Didsbury, I'd like to politely suggest (rather than rant; so unseemly!)that you avoid a bijou little establishment called JemandI.I dined there with a group of friends recently and was served the worst steak I've ever seen on a plate. It was grey, lacked any juices or flavour etc. On sending it back (having eaten the 'accompaniments' of 6 chips half a tomato & 2 mushrooms) I was treated with utter disrespect & rudeness by the waitress. Sadly, her idea of customer service was to proceed to argue with me at the table no less than 3 times. In order to get her to leave us alone I had to finally agree to pay for (exactly) what I had consumed. Sale of Goods Act anyone?

bobFebruary 4th 2008.

Lisatry the best in Manchester Velvets great food great service no pretence and great staff.

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