It is not that often that a job goes exactly to plan, but the work that Sprint Group has just carried out at Brasserie Blanc’s latest restaurant in Bath went far more smoothly than it could ever have wished for.

“It was an absolute cracking job from our point of view because it is not that often you walk into a premises and think, ‘this is perfect from the operator’s point of view’,” says Sprint’s managing director David Ryan.

“I can talk about a lot of ones that are absolutely nothing like that at all, but this one was a really smooth operation because it was all at ground-floor level and had immediate access to the dining area, while the kitchen is probably one of the best in their group as far as lay-out goes. We tried to do the bars, the cold rooms and the kitchens as a complete project in five days and we wrapped it up by 5 O’clock on the Friday,” he reveals.

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Since taking over eight former Chez Gerard sites in London at the end of last year and securing £20m in private equity investment, Brasserie Blanc has been embarking on an aggressive expansion programme aimed at increasing its presence in the south of the country in particular. Its affordable French food and relaxed atmosphere has seen the chain win rave reviews and it is looking to build on that with a raft of openings.

The 116-seater restaurant in Bath is located within the Francis Hotel, opposite the Queen Square and in walking distance of the city’s famous sights. It features an open-plan kitchen typical of all the chain’s restaurants, supplemented by a rear kitchen packed with refrigeration equipment, cold rooms, dishwashing areas and a prep area for vacuum packing.

“These guys can do 2,000 meals a week pretty easily, so it has to be a formula, and it is pretty much laid out in a way that they can all operate,” comments Ryan. “Their restaurants do differ from the customers’ perspective, but they are always going to see a pass and they are going to see chefs working in most of the restaurants, which creates a lot of theatre.”

Three-tier heated gantries on the front pass are used for plate storage and service, while a series of refrigeration units are installed under the primary cooking suit. The centrepiece of the kitchen is manufactured by Blue Seal and includes three solid tops, a couple of griddles, a fryer and a pasta boiler. “We have been selling Blue Seal for about 16 years now, so we are pretty well-established with them,” says Ryan.

Blue Seal also supplied a hood-type dishwasher and a separate glasswasher for the bar area. “Depending on the application, we will either go with a Blue Seal or a Hobart — you have got two different animals there really,” notes Ryan. “I think sometimes people underestimate what Blue Seal is really about, but it does have some very good equipment and we wouldn’t be selling it if it didn’t stand the test of time.”

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Most of the cooking equipment across the Brasserie Blanc sites are gas powered and Ryan says the Bath venture is no exception. “Their style of cooking is about instant heat and fast turnaround,” he explains. “And the chromium-plated griddles mean that when you cook a steak at 7pm it is going to be exactly the same as one you cook at 10pm. Brasserie Blanc is all about consistency.”

One technology that the restaurant chain has largely turned its back on is induction, which Ryan says is down to the fact that they don’t feel it is the right application for their type of business as it stands right now.

“These are pretty heavy going restaurants, and I don’t think induction appliances at the moment would stand the test of time. I know a lot of people would completely disagree and tell me I am talking nonsense, but these kitchens get a real hammering and they’ve got to be robust.”

Other kit put into the Bath kitchen includes a planetary mixer from ChefQuip and a Rational combi, while the refrigeration, freezers and blast chillers were supplied by Precision. Ryan says Sprint has worked closely with Precision on a number of jobs due to its flexible approach: “You can buy counter fridges from many manufacturers but some operate at 1°C or 2°C.

The big plus with Precision is that they all operate at -2°C, so they can be used as a meat fridge or any application at all.”
For the Brasserie Blanc Bath job, Worcestershire-based Sprint also designed and installed the walk-in cold room and specified the bottle coolers and cellar cooling equipment.

“On that project we did all of the bars, the cookline, rear kitchen, cold rooms and the cellar cooling plant. Sometimes on projects that is broken up and you will get a refrigeration company doing the fridge work and the catering equipment people doing the catering equipment. We have got teams for each and we roll the whole thing together, which is how we are able to achieve that sort of five-day turnaround.”

Sprint will now turn its attention to fitting out the remaining Brasserie Blanc sites on its schedule this year, no doubt hoping that they prove to be as plain sailing as the work it has carried out in Bath.

See our exclusive picture gallery of the fit-out at Brasserie Blanc here.

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Spec sheet

Equipment used in the Brasserie Blanc Bath kitchen includes:

Blue Seal: Cooksuite & warewashers
ChefQuip: Planetary mixer
Hoshizaki: Ice machines
Precision: Refrigeration
Rational: Combination oven

Six down, five to go…

Having worked with Brasserie Blanc managing director, John Lederer, and executive head chef, Clive Fretwell, for a number of years, Sprint Group has perfected the design of the restaurant chain’s front and rear kitchens to achieve its goals in whatever space confronts it.

26-strong Sprint is aiming to makes sales of around £6.5m this year and its involvement in fitting out 11 new Brasserie Blanc restaurants is likely to play a major part in that. The site in Bath is the sixth it has completed in 2012, following on from Berkhamsted, St Pauls, Tower Hill, Covent Garden and Chancery Lane.

“We are just about to start South Bank, Charlotte Street, Bishopsgate, St Albans and Farnham,” reveals managing director David Ryan. “All the Chez Gerards [bought by Brasserie Blanc] in London are being converted, so we are stepping in and redesigning the kitchens to fit its menu.”

Ryan says that the 100-seater Covent Garden venue, which overlooks the Royal Opera House, has presented it with the biggest set of challenges so far, due to the location of the building, restrictions imposed by the landlord and the physical shape of the kitchen.

“The space in which we had to design the kitchen was very difficult, but we have worked with the executive chef to come up with what we consider to be the very best plan that we could,” says Ryan. “We have put slimline refrigeration in and utilised every bit of space that we possibly could, and we have designed that kitchen to be able to really go. We actually have experience of that kitchen before when it was Chez Gerard, so we pretty much knew what hadn’t worked and what we needed to do to make it work. That is how we were able to get in there fairly quickly, come up with a plan, design it, and get in and build it.”

Brasserie Blanc opened its first restaurant in 2006 and revealed at the end of last year that it planned to spend £4m transforming the Chez Gerard sites it bought in London. At the end of this year there will be 19 restaurants in the group and by 2016 it aims to be operating 40 outlets.

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Andrew Seymour

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