27 May 2018

Beet & New Veg: Spring at Brasserie Blanc #BunnyFriendlyFavourites

2018 may come with bamboozling British weathers, bumbling world leaders and a mean bean called Brexit, but one silver lining has truly shone bright: SUN Flowers. Aka plant power and cruelty-free living. Tesco now have a 'director of plant-based innovation' and Waitrose are set to launch an exclusively 'vegan' section next month, in collaboration with The Happy Pear. What a wicked and wonderful pear  they are, but they're far from the only ones. 

From 'no-bull' burgers and holy cow-free cheeses, to shroomdogs and beet-iful buddha bowls, Sainsbury's, M&S and Iceland are also paving a plant-based path. We don't need Professor Trelawney to predict that 2018 will go down as the point-of-no-return; The year that mainstream society joined in the "the cruelty-free crusade"; chose to be strong and stand with the bunnies. Somewhere beyond the factory farm there is a world we can set FREE. Before you know it, auditions will be starting for Les Animales: the musical and I can fulfil my childhood dream of becoming a Lyricist and  use this post as a CV! 

As existing readers of this blog will know, I tend to get carried away with my analogies... In short, the world is finally listening and the UK Restaurant scene is no different. What's more, Les Animales could stay true to its French roots. One man who has definitely listened to the song of our animal friends is Brasserie Blanc founder Raymond Blanc. Now, if you were asked you to describe a Veggie French menu, you'd be forgiven for reciting something along the lines of...

 Starter: Baked Camembert/Goats Cheese Soufflé  
Main Course: Spinach and Gruyere Crepes
Dessert: Creme Brûlée, Creme Caramel
*or just skip straight to Fromage and Fondu*

*...and let's not forget Mr Potato's famous French relatives - Monsieur Gratin et Mademoiselle Dauphinoise - along with the sauces for all-courses: Bernaise and Hollandaise (is anyone else picturing Monica Gellar right about now?)

Let's just say that, if you don't like cheese, you might feel a bit cheesed off in a 'traditional' french Bistro! What's more, options you may assume would be veggie/vegan are anything but: Soup L'Ognion is made with beef stock, bisques are best friend to the bacon lardon and then, of course, there's foie gras - or, as I like too call it, foie aarggh, because there's nothing 'faux' about it

    "Somewhere beyond the Factory  
Farm there is a world we can set Free"

Nonetheless, Brasserie Blanc has become my favourite high-street restaurant, surpassing even Las Iguanas and their dedicated Veggie-Vegan menu. I think the runaway success of the "veganuary night" was a big incentive, as the Bristol branch have started doing a vegan night every month, while  the set menus now have a vegan option for each course.

Yet I'm here to talk about what's cooking a la carte and, true to form, the grass is just as green. Earlier this Spring, we made two visits to Bath's Brasserie Blanc in the space of three weeks. We first went with family friends, a week before the Spring Menu launch, yet couldn't resist returning after we saw the new options - kudos to Brasserie Blanc's social media manager, your email and twitter promotions hit the right note!

Vegan Menu Starters: Spring Vegetable Rolls and Pea, Broad Bean & Red Pepper Salad (photo credit: Brasserie Blanc)
For starters, let's talk about the starters! As you can probably tell from the difference between these photos and my first one, they were not taken by yours truly. The use of the file photos is actually testament to how delicious they were, as we couldn't wait to tuck in and I subsequently resolved to write a review. 

After a bit of deliberating between two vegan starters - always a good sign  -  I opted for the Pea, Broad Bean and Red Pepper Salad and it was the most refreshing combination of flavours. I think there was a bit of mint in the peas, which was offset well by the sweetness of the piquillo peppers and all tied together wonderfully by a tomato and chilli dressing. (Let's pause to acknowledge the fact that I didn't run a thousand miles at the word 'chilli', or ask for Ketchup. Again,  always a good sign!)

They say good things come in threes, and so came our third 'good sign' of the meal: dad ordered the other vegan starter! Dad is definitely the most 'open-minded' of all my family, yet his idea of veggie is more 'fromage' than 'fry's family foods'. Picking the Spring Vegetable rolls over his Steak Tartare staple was, therefore, quite a moment. It also meant I got to sample a bit, which is again a veggie novelty! 

In the end, I opted against this particular dish because it contained 'cucumber'. Along with melton, it's one of lifelong 'tastebud taboos' - I can't handle cucumber face wipes -  but I tried the pesto and soy dipping sauce and was very impressed. I might see if they can do it 'sans cucumber' next time! 

Onto mains, there were again two vegan options and I went for the Roasted Butternut Squash with Citrus Bulgar Wheat Salad. As you can see though, this isn't your sad, soulless kind of salad; on the contrary, it's Spring in a squash, featuring pomegranates, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, pesto and chickpeas. Moroccan influences are always a winner in the plant-based kitchen, unless you miss the mark with a falafel recipe - nothing says falafail quite like a grainy falafel. 

Wisely, Raymond didn't tempt fate and stuck with the tried-and-tested formula of squash-and-stuff; a combination that is far more appetising  than it sounds! If I had one quibble, there was slightly too much citrus and too little squash. However, this could be because I just really loved the squash; it was roasted to perfection and packed with flavour in itself. I really need to using squash more at home. The closest I get is pumpkin ravioli, which isn't exactly the same thing...

...that being said, when we visited Brasserie Blanc two weeks earlier, back in March, it was the Pumpkin Ravioli that stole the show! It was quite a big step for me to order 'pasta', as it's one of those niggling anxieties for me with food/diabetes, but I'm so glad I did.

For one thing, look how colourful it is! My vision of "a bowl of beige" was blown out of the water and the taste itself was just as vibrant.  I wasn't expecting the individual pieces of pumpkin, but this was a very welcome surprise. It was genuinely one of the nicest things I've ever eaten, so I'll admit I was slightly crestfallen when it didn't reappear on the Spring Menu! That being said, the butternut comes pretty close. 

Before the main course, we all had starters and I decided to shake things up a little - who said you need the 90s to "spice up you life"? I was immediately drawn to the "trio of beetroot"; however, as it came with salmon,  I defaulted to the one veggie option that wasn't a fromage affair: mushrooms on toast. It wasn't really what I was fancying, so when the waiter came I took a leap of faith and asked if they could "veganize" the fish dish. 

*Note to self: it's not 'awkward' or "self-indulgent" - aka what anxiety was telling me*
As the picture shows, they delivered! I asked if they could sub the salmon with a sea-free alternative and they suggested mushrooms. In the end, I had no regrets as it was really good; what's more, it came with a complimentary side of comedy from the waitress: "I have one salmon and betroot... without the salmon."  That would be the veggie.

Thank-you Brasserie Blanc for two lovely meals at your branch in Bath. We may even be returning for my Graduation Meal in July! Restaurant meals still come with a level of anxiety, so it's all the more valuable when I find somewhere I feel calm and comfortable. Brasserie Blanc is top of the list and, as long as it keeps cruelty-free a la carteI hope it has full chairs and full tables for years to come.

     What are your Favourite Meat-Free Menus?


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