Côte (Guildford Branch)
35 Castle St,
Guildford GU1 3UQ
BY NEAL MARTIN | MARCH 10, 2023
gravadlax with beetroot and sour cream
steak with pommes frîtes
clafoutis with vanilla ice cream
Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 95
dedicate a column to a restaurant chain found across the UK?
by Richard Caring, the first Côte branch opened in Wimbledon in 2007. Its
template was your round-the-corner French brasserie, designed to cater to those
seeking a soupçon of Gallic dining without crossing the Channel, aimed at those
happy to pay a few quid more but would blanch at haute cuisine. The concept is
nothing new, though few have done it better or with more ambition. In 2013, it
was sold for a cool £100 million. Alas, seven years later, it went into
administration as the pandemic forced its doors to close. It was rescued by investors
and survived partly because of a well-received “Côte at Home” takeaways when
going out to eat meant sitting at the end of your garden. There are now around
90 branches with plans for expansion. Côte is no gastronomic temple. It’s not a
place where culinary horizons are expanded, but there are three reasons why it
deserves the Vinous Table treatment.
Salmon gravadlax with beetroot and sour cream.
when I popped in to confirm the time of my Christmas Eve dinner, I enquired
whether they operated any corkage policy. I expected a negative reply.
Restaurants at this level tend not to appease oenophiles without a sommelier
who might recognize the caliber of bottle you wish to bring, often with a
stringent no BYOB policy across all branches. Fair enough. However, the manager
replied that it would be no problem and would apply a very reasonable £15.00 a
bottle. So that evening, I came packed with a serious Burgundy Grand Cru and
handed it to the waiter. The second unexpected surprise was that the waiter immediately
clocked the pedigree of fermented grape juice and enthusiastically told me how
he is studying for his WSET certificate. Great! I don’t know whether Côte’s
policy is to offer wine training to all their staff, but it makes a difference.
The waiter cared for my bottle as well as any trained sommelier at a top
restaurant, checking that the temperature was optimal and pouring promptly when
necessary. Thirdly, Côte serves tasty food. It’s unpretentious, and it’s not
going to hurt your wallet. Simplicity is its strength. Côte offers dishes that
you expect in a brasserie, a lot with fries of dauphinoise if you want to
splash out. If you want foams or fancy ingredients, this is not the place for
Fillet steak with pommes frîtes.
no point in analyzing the dishes. There’s no amuse-bouche. For the starter, my
salmon gravadlax was fresh, the sweetness of the diced beetroot coming through
nicely, the blob of sour cream and dill knitting it all together. I infrequently
eat red meat these days, but when I do, you might as well go for it. Côte is
known for its côte de boeuf, but I chose the fillet steak with skinny fries and
salad. The plate could have benefitted from a bit more greenery, and the fries
could have been hotter, but the steak was perfectly cooked, tender and rammed
with flavor. The plum clafoutis came with an almond custard pastry and vanilla
ice cream. No complaints here at all.
Plum clafoutis with vanilla ice cream
wine list is short and to the point. Côte is not a place where you come to
choose which vintage of La Tâche tickles your fancy, and there are far fewer
choices than, say, The Ivy, a chain aiming for a similar clientele but
delivers upmarket razzamatazz for the masses. Scanning the wines at Côte, they are
well chosen and more reasonably priced than the Ivy.
Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru from Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard is a
bottle earmarked for my vintage overview next year, but here was a chance to
examine it over time. Intense on the nose, it has razor-sharp delineation and
impressive focus, with scents of honeysuckle, lime, crushed stone and blood
orange, completely delivering what you expect from a Grand Cru. The palate did
not disappoint. Again, full of tension thanks to the razor-sharp acidity, at
ten years, this is reaching its peak but clearly contains sufficient vigor and
energy to suggest it will give another 15, possibly 20 years of pleasure.
o’clock, you could sense that the young staff was itching to clock off and
celebrate Christmas Eve, so I called for the bill. It had been a thoroughly
satisfying meal that delivered above my modest expectations. Not everyone
yearns to dine at high-class restaurants or can pay for it. Many contentedly
live their life within limited culinary horizons. Côte caters to them and does
it well. The fact that guests can BYOB is an added bonus. Having teetered on
the brink of survival a couple of years ago, it’s important that chains like
these are thriving. I will be back.
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