Every now and then, a place opens that entices you to embrace it like an old friend, promising very quickly to become a regular haunt. Sager & Wilde last year was immediately one, Duck Soup in the past, Mishkins and Honey & co are others that I continue to return to and are a small number of places, few and far between that stand out as those I’d recommend, amongst the steady flurry of newcomers to the lively restaurant and bar scene that ebb and flow, few rarely capturing the heart or having the chance to become old favourites. There’s a repetition to the style you may notice, all of those I listed are worthy of a visit for either drinks or food, but more importantly, they’re simple places made up of, oh so much, more than the sum of their well conceived parts. I can’t place more emphasis on just the right overall ambience and style of service here, they also quite importantly, though not necessarily, for solo dining, have a great bar on which to dine and drink.
With just a single visit to Blanchette, who’s arrival sans fanfare, at an awkward time of year, on Soho’s D’ Arblay Street, has already become just that.
I don’t doubt that it was somewhat helped with the perfect glass of champagne in an elegant coupe style glass, that was brought immediately upon my choosing a seat, at the bar obviously, corner to the right. Or that one of the owners, Max, stood and chatted with me like an old ally whilst I awaited for my friends arrival, or that in fact my friend knows the owners somewhat; brothers Max, Yannis and Mallik. Almost irrelevent but worth knowing and very nice all the same.
Sat alone for a few minutes, I steal a moment to take in my surroundings, before lights are lowered and the magical web of evening is cast, the restaurant fills up with energetically buoyant folk and comes alive with fun music. The bar is clearly the focal point, and deservedly so, wooden and blessed with many bottles, a giant burnished chalice is filled with more, and beautiful hand painted tiles pretty things up. As a short arse, I struggle at first getting into my sprung wooden stool, but once perched, they’re much comfier than they look. There’s romantic looking spots in the front window, candlelight illuminating ethereally lovely place settings and more of the dainty crockery that at first caught my eye. Additional seating lines the wall opposite the bar, then the restaurant opens up towards the back into a taverna style, from what I can see from the other end, peering down past waiters and espresso machine, I’m told a 55 covers in total, yet the feel is more intimate than that number would suggest.
My friend arrives in a waft of kisses and more bubbles, a dinky pot of crispy pigs ears and crackling staves of any hunger pangs as we digest the menu, and, OH, what a menu of temptation. Reasonably priced everything is too, with small plates and bites that so perfectly capture everything I long to nibble to accompany great wines and champagne in so gorgeous a setting. In fact everything seems to sparkle and glimmer that evening, from the high chatter amongst girlfriends to the glint off chinking glasses and the effervescent attention from staff that is bestowed upon every single guest that walks though the door.
An, as dainty as you like, arrangement of croque monsieur arrives first and is one of the best I’ve tasted, partly because I love the exquisite delivery, designed for bites between sips; fizz against fried crispness. Who can resist buttery foie gras in a picture so Parisienne? Not us. Generous discs anoint tiny triangles of toast with decadence and bourgeois. Bread we barely touch but is served warm at the bottom of a brown paper bag, fresh and with a little pat of butter complete with spanking paddle. Naughty. (Think I’m being unnecessarily silly – check out the wallpaper in the toilets…)
Chips reveal our true roots but are as crisp and tasty as they come. Only the pork belly is not quite what we’re expecting, sliced thinly and crisp as bacon, it alternates with slices of black pudding and a sticky sweet dribbly sauce. Beef bourgignon is brought in error but left for our enjoyment in any case, and thank the gods, for it’s a tiny casserole pot of such unbridled deliciousness, we three struggle to contain our stabby bread weapons to dunk and mop till we hit the bottom with a disappointed thud. There’s surprising depth to that small bowl and a fine dish for the price, mushrooms and onions engorged with rich, almost sticky gravy, slick with the most incredibly tender chunks of meat, melt in the mouth may be a cliche, but this is it incarnate. Jerusalem artichoke and potato gratin with reblochon is a thing of such intense winter perfection; thick starchy slices, with great bite, no disintegration here, just a crunch of breadcrumbs and a cheesy sauce that would warm the coldest heart.
A dish of meringue is sadly too solid to be a delight when all we’re longing for is a squidgy middle, yet my chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise is a triumph of posh Ferrero Rocher, exactly as our waitress has suggested.
And oh, we’re stuffed to the gills and haven’t even touched the charcuterie or cheese! As we leave, the small bar is alive and revelling, so much so that it’s hard to tear ourselves away from what feels like a private party.
I can be obsessive (really?!) and so, as is often the case with places that clutch at my soul, I return as soon as is humanly possible, just two days later. It’s become traditional for us ‘kids’ to take mumma faerie to the ballet for her Christmas present, so we can marvel at the prettiness and the orchestra, the incredible dedication to an art, the strength, all sinewy and willowy and gorgeous. So a visit to see the Nutcracker at the Colliseum is perfectly appointed to enable a pre show nibble, and a nod to the joy of not having to be so remotely dedicated. We actually congregate en famille at lovely coffee slash wine bar Notes after.
With maximum of about thirty minutes available, what could be a rushed, fretful affair is not in the slightest; smoothed over, enabled and calmed by the brothers charming. A glass of chilled Beaujolais soothes and restores delicious balance and a harried plea for recommendations is handled so well, it rewards me with the joyous bounty of a little bag of warm bread and duck rillettes. Quite an innocuous plate those rillettes; a tiny quinelle of shredded meat is dotted with pickles and toast, quite extraordinarily light, zesty and so packed full of flavour, with none of the heaviness you might sometimes expect.
Did someone say obsessive?
I wholeheartedly love Blanchette, it has everything I look for in a restaurant; such sophisticated and elegant dining but with not a hint of stuffiness. It’s as perfect for a quick glass of something delicious as it is for a more drawn out evening of food and friends, solo dining or small groups. It’s not precious or trying to be trendy, it’s fun and grown up, the owners are honest and warm, and dare I say passionate, and it’s all very Gallic. In exactly the same way that Paris unexpectedly captured my heart earlier this year, this little wine bar has done the same; French food, fantastic wines and great service. I think they may be onto something…?
I do hope so.