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35 Castle St,
Guildford GU1 3UQ
BY NEAL MARTIN | MARCH 10, 2023
Salmon gravadlax with beetroot and sour cream
Fillet steak with pommes frîtes
Plum clafoutis with vanilla ice cream
2013 Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru 95
Why dedicate a column to a restaurant chain found across the UK?
Co-founded 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.
Firstly, 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 you.
Fillet steak with pommes frîtes.
There’s 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
The 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.
The 2013 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. Magnificent.
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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