Newly opened in May as one of 11 new Brasserie Blanc venues to appear this year, the Opera Terrace restaurant is situated on the west side of Covent Garden's historic piazza. Facing the Apple Market on one side and the Royal Opera House on the other, the long, slim dining room feels cosy. Raymond Blanc's affordable food venture, largely inspired by his mother's cooking, is very much 'branded' in the vein of Jamie's Italian — cookbooks and products are dotted around and even the house wine we had featured a M Blanc label.
'When I was first in London, I walked into Covent Garden and saw this magnificent restaurant up above the piazza looking like a birthday cake in the middle of the market. I dreamed then of working in that restaurant,' said Raymond Blanc rather romantically about the venue, and the restaurant does feel lovingly constructed. With little Parisian touches and atmospheric café music, the glass terrace is sophisticated and its long balcony lovely for an al fresco drink. Sarah and I were determined to find out if it was worth putting on our pre-theatre favourites list.
We began with starters of gravadlax with a tangy cucumber garnish (living up to Blanc's promise of 'simple, high quality food' straight away) and a goat's cheese parcel — 'full of flavour but without any overwhelming richness,' said Sarah. Then on to a simply dressed Brixham crab and fries (some of the best she'd eaten) for Sarah and the dish my eyes had zoomed to on first glance at the menu — grilled scallops with truffle mash and braised fennel. This more than lived up to its mouthwatering name, with perfectly translucent scallops browned nicely on the outside, deeply pungent truffle mash and the smoky braised fennel setting it all off excellently. It might be rich for some, but it was love at first bite for me.
Lastly we indulged in puds of chocolate crumble and poached pear with caramel sauce — we'd only had the one bottle of wine, after all — and while they weren't gastronomic breakthroughs of any kind, both were pleasantly sweet and satisfying. We left feeling full but not gluttonous which, as S pointed out, 'is the mark of a restaurant that has its portion sizes spot on'.
The situation — while impressive (part of the historic market piazza), it felt intimate inside (candlelight, picture frames, tiled floor).
Our bubbly waitress was friendly and helpful.
There's a good set menu at lunch or before 6.30pm — £14 for two courses, £16.45 for three.
The not so good:
Prices aren't strictly high-street-chain level, going up to £54 for a shared Chateaubriand, and my scallops main was £18.90 (but worth every penny).
Hugely adventurous it is not.
A little taste of French home cooking — perfect for winter — in an ideal location for a pre-theatre dinner.
35 The Market, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8RF (+44 (0)20 7379 0666; brasserieblanc.com)