I like Cardiff Bay. I lived there for a while and it was pleasant, but lacking in community – but I guess that’s what you get when you build 10,000 plaster of Paris carbon copy apartments into a new area that’s inhabited solely by chain restaurants.
Cote Brasserie opened in November 2010 to little fanfare, taking over the spot previously filled by the “The Bay”, a Chinese restaurant which – despite being right on the “Sunset strip” of the Bay – always seemed to be closed or empty.
Cote Brasserie is a British owned chain of faux French restaurants with dining areas dressed up to look like Café René from “‘Allo ‘Allo”, because that’s what all French restaurants are like, right?
We walk in at 7:30pm, and the first thing I notice is that the dining room is half empty, with diners dispersed sparsely over the 30 or so tables that they have. The second thing that I notice is something I don’t think I have ever seen in a restaurant before; some of the empty tables weren’t completely empty – they were being rough ridden by dirty plates and glasses, complete with leftovers and everything.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m sure the golden rules in the “front of house handbook” include;
- Never start clearing plates before everybody on the table is finished eating.
- Wait to be asked for the bill, don’t offer.
- Clear plates before bringing the bill.
From what I know about restaurant etiquette, there should never arise a situation where a patron is paying their bill over finished plates of food, dirty knives and forks and empty glasses of wine. But here we have it (and not only at one table) – we’re talking at five or six tables. I could immediately tell that service at this place was going to be “different”.
Despite the numerous empty tables, and those that were “otherwise occupied” by our dirty friends, we were told to come back in half an hour – alright, perhaps they’re busy and want some time to sort themselves out – it looks like they need it – so we go for a walk around the bay, to check out the new bridge that’s being built over to the BBC production studios.
We come back at 8 o’clock, and to our surprise nothing has changed. The same half a dozen tables are still in the same state, and the manager who asked us to come back has completely forgotten who we are, staring at us blankly when we said we were back. We’re told to “take a seat over there”, with an extended arm point to the corner of the restaurant, a table set up for 6 people. Bewildered, we head over to this table and sit awkwardly as we’re unsure what exactly we’re doing. Are we being seated, or are we being told to wait while a table is prepared? Do we take our coats off and get settled in, or are we going to be on the move again soon? We peruse the menu with uncertainty, I resign myself to ask after a few minutes.
“We’re just preparing a table for you,” the waitress clarifies when I ask. The whole experience so far has been nothing short of a shambles; it’s as if the place opened a day ago with staff who have never worked a day in a restaurant in their lives. Perhaps they hadn’t? I wouldn’t be surprised.
So, eventually we get shown to a table – huzzah! I’m prepared to reset and start again with an open mind. The dining area is bright and open, and the windows have been replaced since Cote moved in with big French windows which can fold open completely in the summer – I imagine this would be a pretty good spot during an event in the Oval Basin.
We got a glass of house red wine each, but at £4.50 a glass, in hindsight we would have been better off getting the bottle (in fact, we rarely buy single glasses; I was “off alcohol” at the time, so I was only intending on having one glass – something I wouldn’t follow through with, but I digress).
So, we had a good look at the menu and Misia was very happy to see foie gras in the list of starters – she’s forever complaining that she doesn’t have enough foie gras in her life (sometimes I swear she’s the cast off of some aristocratic family, with her penchant for expensive delicacies). I kept it simple, opting for the soup of the day, which was something with celeriac – I didn’t actually catch exactly what it was. We also chose our mains, the lamb shank for me and a half a chicken for Misia.
The grills menu looked pretty good, with choices of steaks with a multitude of sauces, but alas, I just had to try the lamb, if only to find out what a “veal and rosemary sauce” was like.
Our starters came out quickly and were tasty; Misia, usually hard to please, says it’s one of the best examples of foie gras that she has eaten, and the soup was of good consistency. I’m sure the secret ingredient was cheese but I couldn’t pinpoint it and I didn’t ask so I guess we’ll never know. Maybe one day I’ll write a book following my quest to find out what the soup was that I had at Cote brasserie, embarking on a round-the-world trip following clues to locate the chef that was on that day, eventually finding him in a remote jungle in north-west Burma, and he’ll tell me that it was in fact cheese all along.
Starter plates cleared out, and my six week run of abstinence abruptly ended as we ordered our second glasses of wine. Mains were up pretty soon, might I take this opportunity to tell you that the initially ramshackle service we had received has by now picked up, the restaurant is mostly empty now though.
My lamb shank looked good, in a “veal and rosemary sauce”, it’s always good to have an assortment of baby animal products on one plate – give me a suckling pig too, please!
Lamb is very easily overcooked, I did it myself so often that I gave up and leave it to Misia or the professionals now. I’m pretty sure that at one point in my life I lived primarily on a diet of overcooked, dry lamb. That was a very low point. Luckily, this chef knows how to do it properly and it fell from the bone like it was dying to get away.
The sauce was full of flavour, and not of oily fat as can sometimes happen. The rosemary was particularly evident, although there was some kind of berry in there too which made for a sweet taste.
Misia’s chicken looked pretty damn good too, a “Breton” chicken, for what it’s worth; “Corn fed and reared in the heart of Brittany”, so, a snooty upper class chicken. But in all seriousness, it wasn’t anything special. Without the garlic butter, the chicken was lacking in flavour, and the meat was a hair’s breadth off overdone.
Creme caramel for me and creme brulee for Misia is what we chose to round off with. Misia is something of a creme brulee conneiseuer, so if this stands up to her test then it must be a testament to how good it is – but it wasn’t, “a bit gloopy” apparently. I’m not so hot on desserts – I don’t have too much of a sweet tooth, as I think I’ve mentioned before. It was typical of a bought-in dessert, so I suppose I won’t be offending any of the restaurant staff by saying that it wasn’t anything special. A decidedly average end to an average meal really.
There’s nothing left to say really, our impression had been tainted from the moment we stepped foot into Cote Brasserie. It’s a chain and you can certainly tell. There’s just no passion, not even any fake passion like you get at other chains. Would I eat here again? Not likely, considering the other options available at similar prices in the same area.
My one line verdict; “If this was a pub, the food would have been good. As a restaurant, the experience went from harrowing to somewhat adequate and the food was lacking in ‘Je ne sais quoi'”