When a cafe goes to the trouble of placing a 'Please wait to be seated' notice at the entrance, there should be a reason other than keeping potential customers waiting while they eye up all the empty seats. We visited at 3.30 in the afternoon - a busy time for any restaurant serving tea and cake, one would have thought. Yet Maison Blanc had already closed one section and placed the chairs on the tables. Of the remaining tables, a good half were unoccupied.
Let's start with the good points. The crockery was white and sparkling clean. The tea was hot and the pots held enough for two cups. Although we did not order any cakes, I do know - from having bought them from the shop area - that they are delicious. The service was quick and courteous - but since the place was so quiet - that should be a given. And I'm really sorry to say this, but the waiting staff's uniforms reminded me of those worn by non-nursing staff in NHS hospitals. They did not look smart, just slightly scruffy.
Almost everything else was disappointing. Despite a selection of teas, there was no Lapsang. I had to make do with Darjeeling instead. My companion's sandwich - ham and compte cheese - looked liked something a teenager had thrown together. It tasted OK but there was no finesse in presentation. The square-shaped slices of bread bore little resemblance to any French-made bread that I have ever seen, either in England at the excellent Bertinet Bakery in Bath or indeed France itself. It could have been anything - even Warburtons.
Finally - and this is the part that astonished me the most - staff members, including kitchen staff - kept walking past the tables on their way to the staff cloakroom. Some were in there such a short time that they can only have been visiting a lavatory. Others emerged, wearing their coats. This was annoying. Any restaurant that cannot manage to keep its staff areas separate from customers trying to relax with their food and drink has clearly not thought things through.