Located on Walton Street in the more central end of Jericho, Brasserie Blanc is convenient for students living north of Broad Street and visiting parents with cars alike. Having recently undergone a dramatic makeover, its new modern, minimalist look stands out from the quaint family restaurants and English pubs that otherwise litter north Oxford. Despite what the chic charcoal exterior might lead you to expect, the vast, immaculate windows let in a large amount of light until late into the evening, at which point discreet internal lighting takes over. Although similarly grey and uncluttered, with smart white tables and pretty stained-glass details, the warm lighting, large stately fireplace and tasteful knickknacks make the atmosphere more comfortable, and a touch more British, than what you would necessarily expect. This only serves to anticipate the menu and represent the overall vibe of this classy but modern French restaurant.
Upon arrival one is quickly and amiably greeted and seated, reservation or no by the competent and friendly staff. Their uniform – white collarless shirt, spotless taupe apron and neat, nice trousers – hits exactly the right note of classic but modern, posh but comfortable. They give you the menu and then disappear to give you enough time to actually consider the vast choice available to you.
The classics of French cuisine all make an appearance, thankfully made well and traditionally. There are no unexpected and unnecessary “personal twists”, as unwelcome as a literal fingerprint pushed onto your plate. Instead, the chefs save their originality for the slightly more unexpected options: a small spring vegetable risotto and a British cheddar soufflé are both found on the starters list.
When ordering starters, we opted for one traditional choice and one not, and asked for a wine bottle of the waiter’s choice. The Sauvignon blanc he brought us was light, fruity and pleasantly dry, though we only managed about half a glass before the starters arrived. Such impressive speed often indicates that the food is not cooked to order, but the arrival of the cheddar soufflé, delightfully served on a single-serving sized frying pan, and the escargots still in the pan they were baked in, proved otherwise. The soufflé was perfection: creamy yet light, flavourful yet not stodgy. The accompanying sauce was satisfyingly gooey, but didn’t overpower the dish. The escargots were indulgently garlicky and cooked exactly, served as such a generous portion that it left you worryingly full before the main course.
Thankfully, this was not the kind of place where you are hurried through your meal and out the door to clear your table for the next paying customers, and we were left to digest and to enjoy the wine, pretty décor and ideal acoustics as we waited for our mains and fought over the last spoonful of soufflé.
A steak tartare, though not the most complex dish to prepare, requires high quality ingredients to not fail spectacularly and Brasserie Blanc did not disappoint – at least, with this dish. The chickpea and coriander cake was notably the only vegetarian main on the menu and, considering this, not a particularly safe choice. The risk didn’t quite pay off; although actually quite tasty and reasonably well spiced, the cakes were dry and there was not nearly enough tomato sauce to compensate for this significant flaw. Being quite out of place on the otherwise very French menu, I suspect that this is a particular weak point on the menu, but when it is the only meat-free dish this a glaring oversight.
The desserts were distinctly more consistent: freshly made, the baked lemon tart was sweet and tangy and benefited from the inclusion of generous strips of zest. The crème brûlée was exquisitely sugary, but the addition of rhubarb made for a pleasant contrast and a more complex, interesting flavor.
This is not necessarily the place for an average, quick student meal, as most normally have neither the time nor money for high quality French cuisine in a luxurious sit-in restaurant. However, it is absolutely perfect for a celebratory dinner with friends or partners or getting the most out of the occasional parental visit – just so long as you’re not vegetarian.