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'

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
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

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices