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If you’re expecting naked pictures of Rihanna or details of what’s kicking down at Torture Garden this weekend then turn away now. What I am about to tell you has no bearing on the sadomasochistic title I chose, it was merely a bit of sneaky SEO (that’s search engine optimisation to you) to drive some extra traffic to our site. Sorry.

Although it’s not entirely unrelated. I do like chains. One chain in particular actually. But it’s not the metallic variety. It’s the food variety.  Fear not, I won’t spend 500 words extoling the virtues of Maccy D’s, Kentucky Fried something or Pizza Express. My chain of choice is Côte, a UK-wide Parisian-style bistro.

Working in a room full of restaurant critics and food journalists it’s not uncommon for a discussion to revolve around our favourite places to re-fuel. And November wasn’t short of great new openings. But last week it was Côte that got our tongues wagging. One by one we relayed our happy tales of eating £9.95 minute steak washed down with a swig of house red, specials worthy of the Good Food Guide and service worthy of at least a 12.5% tip.

It was like a guilty secret and as we opened up our enthusiasm got louder, soon the whole office was echoing with the sound of praise for the chain. The only criticism came from one editor who mentioned ‘a slightly peculiar waiter in the Wardour Street branch’. As far as criticism goes I think you’ll agree it’s not too bad.

Since launching in 2007 there are now no less than 20 branches of Côte throughout the UK, from Londonto the Midlands and even Wales. Every good town should have one. No, must have one.

Set up by the management team behind Strada and with the backing of entrepreneur extraordinaire Richard Caring, Côte mixes high street prices with high-end interiors and service you’d expect at the Ivy – perfectly attentive without being annoying.

Distinguished dark wooden tables mix with comfy leather banquettes creating an effortlessly chic but homely room that perfectly complements the waiters’ powder blue shirts, how very French.

The food is everyday café-style. Imagine you’ve just popped out for a bite on the rue de quelque chose and choose from steak, chicken provençale and moules marinières with thin chips, sorry French fries – when in Rome and all that. But here they won’t frown if you ask for sauce tomate or even Ketchup.  And I cannot recommend the steak tartare more highly.

France rules the wine list too. It ranges from affordable glasses of Merlot (£4.80) to bottles of Margaux (£68) that you’ll spend all afternoon lingering over.

The bill rounds off the experience nicely, with mains averaging at £11.95 Côte is a destination for all financial climes. While Cameron and Sarkozy are doing their best to sever the Anglo-French ties I will do my best to keep them strong, one steak tartare at a time.

by Jemima Johnson-Gilbert

Best for:  Sunday lunches and wintery dates

www.cote-restaurants.co.uk

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