There are always mixed views when a favoured restaurant changes its menu.
On the one hand, it’s always pleasing to see some new dishes to sample - and in today’s competitive market no restaurant worth its salt can afford to stand still. It has to constantly reinvent its offering.
But on the other, regular diners tend to be conservative in their tastes - liking the reassurance of a familiar face welcoming you at the door and a preferred dish that you know won’t disappoint.
The launch of the autumn menu at Brasserie Blanc understands both these concerns and with a generous helping of commonsense has ensured that both are catered for.
So the new menu is bursting with new ideas from Raymond Blanc and the chef team led by Clive Fretwell - while all the old favourites happily remain on the menu.
We visited the Chichester Brasserie and were greeted by assistant manager Edward and his colleague Josh who served us at table.
Our visit coincided with the launch of the menu - a timely reminder that the glorious summer has already passed to autumn.
Could Josh advise? He certainly could with some gentle good humour. The team had sampled all the new dishes that morning and knew exactly how to interpret the descriptions on the menu.
So we plunged in with starters of smoked Morteau sausage salad (£8.25) - a pan-fried smoked pork sausage with white wine potato salad, poached free range egg, and curly endive - and potted Cornish crab and avocado (£8.75).
For mains we sampled the slow-roast pheasant breast (£17.25) with braised and pureed sweetcorn, butternut squash, dauphinoise potato, pickled girolle mushrooms and pan jus; and the smoked pork belly with apple (£17.50) - free range pork belly, braised cabbage, dauphinoise potato, roasted and pureed apple and pan jus.
Josh’s advice was spot-on and gave you confidence in making your choices. He emphasised, when we asked him, that the pork belly was smoked. He double checked that’s what we were expecting.
We both backed him when it came to desserts - he loved the chocolate delice (£7.50) with velvety chocolate ganache, praline panacotta cream and hazelnuts. It was extraordinarily rich, as promised!
Good training is a fundamental belief of Raymond’s as he made clear during a recent visit to Chichester - and Edward and Josh, both lovely guys, did him proud. Cooking and preparing every meal in the local restaurant rather than mass producing it in central kitchens is also one of his core beliefs.
We like Brasserie Blanc - always a great welcome and when you are not dining a la carte there’s a value set menu too. And Raymond Blanc is not afraid to really push the boundaries of taste and food combinations - that takes courage and real self belief when you have to sustain high turnover through a restaurant chain approach.
Fortunately, the brasseries have grown organically - there’s only about 20 of them - at a rate of about one a year, so each one has had time to establish itself in its community and understand what locals expect.
This is a tough time for high streets. Supporting local restaurants even with their lower price set menus have never been more important - or enjoyable.
* We were invited to dine by Brasserie Blanc and they were aware of our visit. However, our reviews are always represent our honest opinion and the restaurant has no control over what we write.