There’s more than a fresh lick of paint to be found at Raymond Blanc’s newly reopened eatery in Quakers Friars. Here, the renowned chef chats to Louise Harrold about the new look, the Bristol scene, and his local foodie heroes…
We were glad to see Brasserie Blanc back in action recently – for one thing, we were starting to get withdrawal symptoms from their cocktails. (You must try the rhubarb and honey martini – Absolut citron vodka, rhubarb liqueur, honey and pink grapefruit juice…) An elegant homage to the origin of the distinctive Friary edifice – erected in 1747 – with a pretty terrace full of olive trees that add to the tranquil feel of this historic inner city oasis, it’s certainly worth a visit, as busy Monsieur Blanc explained when we caught up with him recently…
TBM: So what prompted you to decide to undertake such a big redesign?
RB: When we first acquired the building in 2008, we felt very lucky to be able to open in such an iconic Bristol building that was not only Grade-I listed, but which had such a link to romance, having been used as a register office for so many years. We wanted the redesign to enhance this romantic aspect and to also provide a more informal décor inside for our diners.
At the heart of French cooking and the French ethos of food is that time spent eating should be a casual and relaxed affair that is savoured and enjoyed; and I feel Bristol diners share this same idea. I wanted to provide a softer setting inside to reflect this; for the restaurant to be a place where everyone feels welcome, whether it is for morning coffee, a quick lunch, to meet a friend for a cocktail, or to dine with family.
The sunny courtyard is the perfect hideaway for lazy summer evenings
What are the main changes?
There are an enormous amount of changes on a number of levels. The huge redesign has transformed the restaurant into a more modern space, and we have a wonderful sunken terrace outside – really beautiful and shady. We have been careful to make sure the building remains true to its heritage, which we realise is very important. We are completely in awe of the building – we know we have something belonging to the history of Bristol. We wanted to complement this history and so we have been sure to use natural stone and warm colours.
We also have a new bar where we will be serving cocktails; a huge marble stone table; and a beautiful mezzanine floor. We have redesigned all of our locations over the last two years, with Bristol being the final location to be completed, and I have to say I feel we have left the best until last.
I have always admired the food scene in Bristol and the chefs, like Barny Haughton, creating it…
Bristol has such a vibrant food and drink culture; what do you think the Brasserie adds to that?
It brings an element of quality, freshness, seasonality, good food and good service, and that has been the hallmark of the brand since the opening of our first Brasserie Blanc. I have always tried to add something to the food scene that did not seem to be around in England. Of course, the way the food scene in England has changed and evolved over the years is very exciting and I am happy to have been a part of that. We are much more responsible about where the food comes from, what is in it and, in turn, the consumer is much more knowledgeable and aware.
I have always admired the food scene in Bristol and the chefs, like Barny Haughton (formerly of Rocinantes, Quartier Vert, Bordeaux Quay), creating it. I always admired him for his dedication to the organic food movement and for being a pioneer for all of those who followed in his example. Of course, the organic movement is now everywhere and is an important quality that many people consider when choosing the source of their food, but it is thanks to chefs like Barny that it is now so present in people’s minds. At Brasserie Blanc we try to support as many small industries as possible – from small cheese makers to small fishmongers – and we roast our own coffee; it is exciting to be part of the food revolution.
Tell us a bit more about the new menu…
Our head chef, Frederic Fetiveal, has been with us for eight months, and we are lucky to have such a passionate and highly skilled chef to create our menus. We have been careful to include, of course, many of the classic dishes that are so loved, such as steak tartare, moules marinière and l’escargot, but there are new options such as the potted Cromer crab – one of my favourites. I remain very involved with the menus and as the seasons change, my chefs and I all sit down together to go through what will be on them. Thankfully it is a joy to be in Bristol and to be able to make sure lots of local produce gets on to our menus; we source our steaks from Ruby and White and, of course, make sure we stock a good selection of local craft beers.
To find out more, browse the menu or book tables visit the Brasserie Blanc website