Upmarket new chain Côte is bucking the crunch – but does your high street need a posh Café Rouge?

Côte, 124-126 Wardour Street, London W1, tel: 020 7287 9280

Believe it or not, it is still possible to make money in the restaurant trade. According to the latest edition of Harden's London Restaurants, only 64 closed in the past 12 months – the lowest rate in the capital since 2000. Contrast this with the number of openings: 121, up from a low of 111 last year.

"Everyone, including us, thought that London's restaurants were in for a blood bath in 2009," says Peter Harden. "Well, it just didn't happen."

This is good news for Richard Caring, Britain's most prominent restaurant-owner, whose wealth declined by £100m in the past year, according to one of the broadsheets. After acquiring the Soho House group in 2008, and opening a branch of Cecconi's in Hollywood earlier this year, he's now down to his last £350m.

Caring's latest venture is a chain of French brasseries called Côte. He launched the first one in Wimbledon in 2007, along with Andy Bassadone and Chris Benians. He couldn't have chosen better partners: Bassadone and Benians started the Strada chain in 1999 and sold it to Caring for £56m in 2004. Not a bad deal, even if Caring did sell it on for £140m. The plan with Côte is to build a high-street chain that appeals to the same market: the sort of people who care enough about food to seek out a good restaurant, but who'd blanch at paying more than £45 a head. If French food is your bag, Côte sits somewhere between Café Rouge and Racine.

Since the first branch opened last year, Côte has expanded to seven and, by this time next year, that number should have doubled. I decide to visit London's Wardour Street branch, but I'm sure any one would have done equally well. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but it is the hallmark of every successful chain. From the outside, it looks like a modern French brasserie, with a large picture window revealing a sepia interior. Step inside, and you're in the Eurozone: generic modern furniture sits in front of an array of reflective surfaces. It is surprisingly full, given this is a Wednesday lunchtime in August, with lots of men in suits staring at their iPhones.

The menu might be described as French lite, with nothing likely to gross out mainstream customers, such as snails or frog's legs. It also includes a couple of non-French additions, such as risotto and seafood linguini, but it would be unnecessarily purist to complain about it. This is an upmarket chain restaurant, not a temple to haute cuisine – it's French as in "French fries", rather than the country across the Channel. The only objectionable thing about the menu is the inclusion of items that would often be free: a basket of bread costs £1.50, and if you want Béarnaise sauce with your steak, it will set you back £1.95. In other words, Côte is not as reasonably priced as it first appears.

I start with half a lobster, accompanied by watercress and mayonnaise vert, while my companion has the pea soup, and we follow up by splitting the Côte de Boeuf for two. The lobster is excellent, with a strong, fresh flavour, and my friend makes positive noises about the pea soup, though doesn't think it was as good as the one in Tom's Kitchen. Our Côte de Boeuf comes with potato gratin – we don't have to pay any extra for the wild mushroom sauce, but we add a salad of tomatoes and shallots and some French beans. It is good without being particularly flavourful, possibly a consequence of being slightly over-cooked. (We ordered it medium-rare, but it is more like medium.) On the menu it is billed as 22 ounces, but I hadn't factored in that this includes the bone. Once you subtract that, there isn't a great deal to go round.

But the biggest disappointment is the pudding. I order Coupe Noir – vanilla ice-cream with hot chocolate sauce – and it has the crystalline texture of ice-cream that has melted and then been refrozen. It tastes as if it has been scraped off the inside of a fridge-freezer. It is a shame to end what has been a pretty pleasant experience on such a sour note.

So a bit of a mixed bag. Given what Côte charges, I had been hoping for slightly better – this is a little too close to Café Rouge for comfort. If you're looking for value for money, my recommendation is to come between noon and 6pm at the weekend, when you can get the two-course steak frites special for £11.95.

13/20

Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

Côte, 124-126 Wardour Street, London W1, tel: 020 7287 9280. Mon-Fri 8am-11pm. Sat 8am-midnight; Sun, 9am-10.30pm. Dinner for two, £84.15

Second helpings: Brilliant brasseries

Le Café Anglais

Whiteleys, 8 Porchester Gardens, London W2, tel: 020 7221 1415

It's been much-hyped, but Rowley Leigh's large new Art Deco-style brasserie is an undoubtedly elegant and airy space that has given a culinary boost to Bayswater

Raphael

Gascoyne House, Upper Borough Walls, Bath, tel: 01225 480 042

A lively and well-organised brasserie, ideal for pre-theatre in the centre of Bath; it's an intimate sort of place, commended by all who comment on it

Brasserie Black Door

Biscuit Factory, 16 Stoddard Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, tel: 0191 260 5411

An interesting location (especially if you wander around the adjacent gallery between courses) and the food is delicious

Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2009'

ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power