It’s not only London restaurants that have had to adapt to survive. In Paris – a city so self-conscious it might as well carry a make-up mirror – even the neighbourhood bistros and brasseries are having to work hard to keep their custom. The result of the economic dip has been dishes using cheaper ingredients, but with no loss of quality, flavour or Frenchness. The paying customer has never had it so good – even if the tables are a bit more squished together.
Blanchette isn’t quite as good as the best of the new-style Paris bistros, but it does share some of their traits. This is not the place to come for oysters and champagne; instead, it’s making good use of simple ingredients. Pissaladière is a simple dish from Nice which packs a lot of flavour into a few bites, with slow-cooked onions, olives, garlic and anchovies topping a thin and crisp focaccia-like base. Beef bourguignon is another classic, this version using ox cheeks, slow-cooked to softness. Instead of the usual lardons (very fatty pork cubes or rashers), ventreche – a ‘bacon’ made from beef – is used to good effect as the topping. It’s not every kitchen that can get the simple things right, but the béarnaise sauce, served with crisp frites, was perfectly textured, and not too heavy-handed with the tarragon.
Blanchette captures the France of the imagination. It’s a delightful rus in urbe in Soho with its bare brick walls, stripped furniture and objets d’art. The Francophone staff are a little bit amateurish, but very enthusiastic and fluent in English. Quite unlike real Parisian waiters, then.