A great deal has been made of the opening of the latest branch of Côte on The Mall, Clifton Village. And understandably so, when you consider that the brand already has around 20 successful branches elsewhere in the UK, and has been favourably reviewed by the likes of Michael Winner, Metro’s Marina O’Laughlin and Time Out’s Guy Dimond. In addition, the brand’s flagship branch in London’s Wimbledon appears in the 2011 Good Food Guide, and the chain even won the Guide’s “Best Value Restaurant In The UK” award in 2009.
Some lucky diners had already bagged themselves a free meal the weekend before the official opening day, thanks to staff training sessions. We were fortunate to book ourselves a table on Côte’s second day in Clifton: the 50% off launch offer is obviously working, with the whole of the first week completely booked up.
Côte’s website makes the brand’s strategy very clear: they aim to offer “simple freshly prepared French food at value for money prices”.
The “simple French food” appears to have been achieved, with the menu including dishes such as steak tartare, moules frites and crème brûlée…but also less traditional options of calamari, risotto and seafood linguine. A section of the menu entitled “Light Mains” offers the likes of spinach and mushroom crêpes or chicken and walnut salad, and a separate specials menu (today including a Cassoulet de Toulouse, which I was very tempted by) offers diners still more variety.
Main course offerings of between £8.50 and £13.50 seem to indicate sucess on the “value for money prices” front, but with starters reaching the £8 mark, the cost of your meal can soon mount up. Lunch and early evening menus, however, will provide you with two courses for £9.95 or three for £11.90, and the restaurant’s website also has details of weekend special deals.
Located on the site of an old petrol station, Côte is enormous. Full credit to the restaurant’s designers, though, who have ensured that it’s still a relatively intimate setting for a meal, thanks to the division of the space into smaller areas. As you go through the front door (shrouded by a velvet curtain), you enter the main bar area, and progress on through to separate dining areas, the divisions of which, I imagine, were decided based on the positioning of the retail units that previously used to occupy the site.
I opted for the Goats’ Cheese Tartine as my starter: two slices of grilled sourdough bread, topped with goats cheese and black olive tapenade and served with roasted baby artichokes.
Not the most appealing-looking plate of food…and unfortunately a little disappointing on the taste front too. Burnt sourdough and over-roasted artichokes somewhat spoiled what would otherwise have been a passable dish. I did, however, enjoy the main of moules frites: a steaming bowl of mussels cooked with white wine, garlic, shallots, parsley and cream, and served with a cone of thin-cut chips. (apologies for the poor-quality photo!)
An uninspiring cheese plate of Roquefort and Reblochon led me to opt for the lemon sorbet for dessert, and a delicious sorbet it was too…the only complaint being that the plate on which the glass dish was served was rather warm.
The bill arrived, and with our 50% discount voucher, I ended up paying only £13 for three courses plus a small bottle of cloudy lemonade. Not bad value for money at full price, but there is quite a lot of variation in prices from dish to dish.
A few other minor niggles, such as our mains arriving before the cutlery had been laid, can no doubt be put down to teething problems: after all, it was only the second night. I’d be interested to go back when the dust’s had a chance to settle to get a more accurate picture of what the place is like…