51 Frederick Street, Edinburgh EH2 1LH
0131 202 6256 www.cote.co.uk
Prix Fixe (Mon - Thu all day; Fri 12 - 7)
2 courses £14.95 | 3 courses £18.95
A la Carte
Starters £5.95 - £9.25 | Mains £11.95 - £23.50
Puddings £5.25 - £7.25
Cooking 6.5/10 | Service 4.5/5 | Flavour 4/5
Well, Côte Brasserie is a chain, right? Founded by inter alia, Richard Caring. 85 branches in the UK according to our affable waiter. (The number may be slightly higher.) And everyone knows that chains are run by bean counters who despise the customers, hate food, and care only about the bottom line. Right?
Whatever your perception might be (and I confess I wasn't expecting much from my maiden visit) I suggest you have a rethink.
A narrow but elegant frontage on Edinburgh's Frederick Street is as deceptive as one's preconceptions. Go down to the loo and you pass enough rooms to solve a housing crisis. You then spy a main tenement door out to the street, and a very high staircase leading Lord knows where.
What was it before, we ask? You might expect my lunch companion, Edinburgh's Greatest Living Expert, to know, but even the great man can't know everything. My money is on a building society (Bristol & West?) but it may have been an AGA shop. If you know, please let me know.
As you may have guessed from the name, the theme is French, with a few steaks thrown in. With a few honourable exceptions, Edinburgh hasn't fared too well with French restaurants, even in the independent sector. At first glance at the menu, things look good, Cassoulet, beef bourgignon, moules and, of course, steak frites. There is a prix fixe menu which is available all day from Monday to Thursday, and until 7 on Fridays. The website features a seasonal specials menu, which, sadly, we weren't offered. While I'm not sure what's seasonal about smoked salmon, let that pass. Confit duck with blood orange salad sounds tempting. Sole meunière is welcome at any time, especially at the astonishingly low price (with frites) of £19.95. And, on a chilly March day, I would have been sorely tempted by the diet busting tartiflette, featuring both Comté and Reblochon.
Mushroom paté is a dish fraught with danger. Common calamities include underseasoning, or serving it over chilled, straight from the fridge. Unlike a P & O ferry, this sailed in nicely, with a well dressed watercress salad and freshly toasted baguette. Cassoulet is another French classic which, in the wrong hands, can be a car crash. The major problem is that while the main ingredients are Perigord larder staples, they are mostly luxury items here. This version featured generous amounts of lardons and sausage and was topped with a generous duck leg. The beans were well seasoned, and the whole dish came together happily. This is not always the case.
To go for the full French experience I ordered the steak frites. For £12.95 you really can't expect much by way of carnivorous quality. For the minute steak you definitely need your own teeth. My lovely waitress did offer (without any request on my part) to replace it. I soldiered on. It was tasty and well seasoned. To be honest, the consistency of the beef was just like being in France.
Sticking to our Gallic theme, proceedings closed with a tarte tatin. On the basis that EGLE can come out with fascinating Edinburgh trivia at the drop of a hat, I was delighted to be able to reciprocate with the story of the Tatin sisters. In most establishments in Scotland, finishing a meal with coffee is generally a moderately unpleasant experience undertaken solely to prolong pleasant conversation. Here it is of excellent quality, as was everything else.
There is truly no such thing as a neutral arbiter: the trick in reviewing is to ensure your initial prejudices don't cloud your final judgement. Didn't I do well? - though not as well as the lovely people of Côte.