See below for a pleasing update on the initial allergy issues we ran into – we returned for a great meal, which left us stuffed; we will be back.
Blanchette has been the darling of the French bistro scene in Soho since its opening in 2013. Now brothers Maxime, Malik and Yannis are taking their simple classic French sharing dishes to Shoreditch with their venture, Blanchette East, with a focus more on Southern France inspired dishes. They offer something rather like a French version of the Salt Yard group – in fact, the latter is backing Blanchette and its influence can be seen from design to menu. The weekend before their new venture opened I headed to the original with a group of friends for a private dinner, to sample their signature menu full of updated classics.
While the upstairs restaurant has a beautiful Art Nouveau bar and dining area with rustic bare-brick walls and classily French café-style furniture, the downstairs Jungle Room, their private dining room, is another thing altogether. The wall at the banquette side of the dining table is a mural of a tropical island jungle scene, putting you in mind not so much of Paris but of the French Caribbean island of Martinique. Facing the mural is a wine cellar room with lead-lined windows. It somehow makes for a perfect atmosphere for a great night out with friends, good food and plenty of well-priced French wine to quaff. Our nervously friendly kiwi waiter, Josh, couldn’t have known what he was in for on his first day of work. So my apologies to him for the topics of conversation he was forced to overhear, and my relief that I don’t have to recount them here.
The olives were delivered, along with the obligatory bread, in a paper bag. Honestly, a somewhat dated style of bread delivery, but it somehow worked with the style of the place, and the fact that it was good quality bread didn’t hurt. Cheeses and thin slices of charcuterie meats marked the segue into the start of the meal proper. The smoked chicken, ham and fig terrine wasn’t quite as advertised; it was the perfect soft texture but was mostly ham hock with a slight smokiness in the background. The real showpiece of the starters was Blanchette’s trademark battered frogs’ legs. Piping hot, they were everything they should be – tender and juicy.
The seared tuna with chilli and avocado was delicious, but not enough between us all; we got one small slice each. The monkfish with roasted pumpkin was a nice dish but there was not much to it and it could be said to have lacked cohesion. But the crab timbale was rich and unctuous; just dipping the puff pastry straws into, and scooping up a large dollop of, the velvety smooth red crab mixture was enough to release the luxurious crab aroma into the air and make one’s mouth water.
The steak tartare, with its large chunks of beef and pickled girolles on the side, was another good dish, although there was something very hot in one mouthful, which rather spoiled it. Thankfully, though, the duck with carrot purée and the lamb shoulder with anchovies were both faultless. I could have eaten multiple servings of them both myself. The duck was tender and fragrant, while the lamb was succulent and sticky in its jus. Both also went seamlessly with the lentil, candy beetroots, hazelnut and goats cheese salad.
Dessert-wise, of note was a French classic: chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise, which was filthy in its richness, making you want to gorge on it past the point of seemliness.
If you’re after a place to have a good time with friends or to celebrate, then Blanchette’s Jungle Room is ideal. The signature menu (served to all groups of eight or more in the restaurant too) will ensure no-one leaves hungry and that everyone will have the chance to try the very best that Blanchette has to offer. If you’re not a fan of the whole tapas sharing thing, then it naturally won’t be for you. But if you can deal with that, the whole communal experience of passing food around the table in the cosy Jungle Room creates quite the relaxed fun atmosphere, and an experience you will certainly remember.
Unfortunately, despite having informed them in advance, after the starters, Josh had the unenviable task of telling us that the kitchen had only just twigged the allergy and that two-thirds of the remaining menu could not be eaten by the person in question. With a well-provisioned kitchen, one would expect an attempt to modify the dishes or come up with alternatives – but they did neither. However, I am glad to report that we headed back on a recent Saturday for a glass of fizz and charcuteries as an apology and decided to add lunch on to it at £15pp for two courses. To start was the tuna and the lamb croquettes were both superb. For the main we both ordered the squid with saffron aioli and sauce vierge with a side of fries and béarnaise. The squid was superb, it was soft but with a slight bite and a lovely light charred flavour accompanied with the piquancy of the sauce. For my dining partner though, the sauce vierge was a no go and to the staff and chef’s credit they set about making a new version of the dish for him – a large, also perfectly cooked piece of squid, on toast topped with ribbons of courgette, capers and I think some aubergine. It was a great meal, left us stuffed and we will be back.
The Jungle Room seats up to 14. Our menu was £40pp (there is also a £35pp option). 9 D'Arblay Street Soho London W1F 8DR email@example.com +44 (0)207 439 8100 Monday to Saturday 12.00 noon - 11.00 pm Sunday and Bank Holidays 12.00 noon - 9.00 pm