Sunday. 4pm. I spent a delicious 2 and a half hours of culinary bliss indulging in one of my favourite restaurants…Blanc’s Brasserie in Winchester. In France at this time the place would be heaving – being England, it was quiet but blissful. The staff here are so unassuming, gentle, polite and welcoming. House wine arrived…and the ordering took little time – a sumptuous rare rump steak for my son, roast beef for my other half, and for my daughter and I, onglet steaks… rare.
Puddings were phenomenal – a trio of delicate ice creams for me – hazelnut, choc and vanilla.
My wife had a stunning hot chocolate mousse and my two kids shared the quite stunning baked alaska.
I accompanied my ice creams with a velvety glass of muscat – it was my birthday meal after all! We then retired to the bar and sank into chairs so comfortable I thought I might sail away…..a double macchiato rounded it all off for me. This place is fantastic value for money…stylish, warm, friendly and somehow homely. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It made my birthday weekend and lifted the fog from the FA cup defeat of my team yesterday!
The French cuts of steak are far more imaginative than in England and there is such a wide range. They have chateaubriand, a large cut for several people, tournedos, small compact round steaks cut from the eye of the fillet and closer to the narrow end of the fillet, filet mignon.
Then there is entrecote (literally, ‘between the ribs’). There is also faux filet or contrefilet, the lean eye of meat which runs along the top of the sirloin. What no doubt irks the French is that the steak was introduced to France by the English as the occupying forces after The Battle of Waterloo. Ah well, but at least they have turned them into a real art. Jack, my son, always eats steak frites with a peppercorn sauce when ever we set foot in a French village. From quite an early age he has always loved his steak rather worryingly rare, in fact ‘bleu’. It sometimes was so rare it walked to the plate on its own. Hannah, my daughter always loved jambon frites when she was young, the ham hanging off the side of the plate, and she always had to have mayonnaise with it…oh, and a sirop à la fraise. Odd thing, habits in the young! They always tried other dishes at other restaurants, but stuck to their favourites. I cannot deny that although I do not eat a great deal of red meat these days, a bloody good steak hits the spot. And there in lies the problem. Getting a really good steak is not always easy. A lot of pubs and restaurants in England have become lazy and the steaks they serve are often rather lack lustre or poorly cooked. My faith,however, in chefdom was restored the other day when I had the most magnificent onglet at a Raymond Blanc brasserie in Winchester. This for me is French steak at its very very best. Onglet has a big, fantastic and unique flavour all of its own. Cut from the grass-fed, slow- matured additive-free and carefully aged rib cage, Onglet has an old fashioned real meaty flavour, with a light offaly and gamey tone, which is much prized throughout France and is now getting a foodie following in this country. Seared on a hot griddle – and cut across the grain to shorten the fibres, this is a beautiful delicious and rare cut that just has to be tried. Please, please, please, search it out and buy some! My friends at Parsonage Farm in Hampshire, where I buy a lot of my meat, will certainly cut some for you. Be a devil, and try some.