I love living in beautiful Richmond upon Thames but when it comes to eating out and you just want a decent-priced, not too expensive meal to catch up with a friend where the emphasis is on having a good chat rather than a bit of gourmet eating, then there’s little beyond the usual chain restaurants.
Now I’m not averse to a Pizza Express pizza from time to time and there are a few of their venues of which I’m fond; however, since they did up the Richmond branch and going inside is now akin to walking into a rather horrendous, noisy motorway service cafeteria with its awful white chairs and tables, my occasional Pizza Express pizza cravings cannot be satisfied locally. I tried to brave it a couple of Saturdays ago with my daughter and only lasted 30 seconds inside before I suggested we shoot round the corner to Strada instead.
Cote Bistro though is an entirely different matter. Cote Bistro I love, in that, ‘Let’s go for a bite to eat’ kind of way. The bonus of chains is their reliability. There can be slight differences between branches, but basically you know what they serve and what you’re going to get. And sometimes that’s a comforting formula. But to say ‘comforting’ about Cote in this way doesn’t really do it justice. Yes there will be formulas in their kitchen for the exact size steak you will get, the exact proportions of the vinaigrette components, etc, but they do more than that and have created, I think, quite a convincing bistro atmosphere that can most definitely touch that feeling of eating your steak and frites in a Parisian bistro and for a short time you can be transported away from the hurly-burly of your normal life.
It’s always busy. I met Liz there last night for their early evening special at 6.45 and it was almost full, despite being a Monday, but fortunately I’ve learnt that booking is essential. Their lunch and early evening menu at £9.95 for 2 courses; £11.90 for 3, is an absolute gem of a bargain. I don’t know anywhere else you can eat so well for this price. Carluccio do a similar priced menu but without the range of choice and not really the same quality.
The fixed price menu changes frequently, although there’s always a choice of Steak Frites for a £2 supplement, which I often have, but I chose something else last night. There’s always a soup of the day too – Pea, Mint and Courgette yesterday. There was also an artichoke and goat’s cheese salad and some crispy whitebait. Liz and I, however, both went for Frisee and Bacon Lardon Salad with a Warm Poached Egg.
The poached egg when I cut it open was perfectly cooked – golden orange and gorgeously runny in the middle. The salad was crisp and fresh, dressed with a good vinaigrette with a touch of mustard, perfectly matching the slightly salty bacon lardons.
There was a nice sounding vegetable risotto as a main but I went for Chargrilled Piquant Chicken Breast with Harissa, Warm White Bean Salad, Cherry Tomatoes and Rocket. Liz chose Hake Fillet with Basil Potato Puree and Sauce Vierge.
Liz said her hake was good and so was my chicken. The ‘piquant’ sauce was definitely spicy hot and the beans delicious and a good accompaniment. A minor complaint is that the chicken was slightly overdone but not so much it spoilt my enjoyment.
We were being good girls and didn’t follow all this with a pudding, though I’ve had their rich Creme Caramel before and delicious Dark Chocolate Pot, so if you’re in the mood – or have room – for dessert, then you’ll find a good one.
There’s always a lively atmosphere in Cote, the service is friendly and efficient and if there’s ever any problem, they’ll immediately put things right. We had 175ml glasses of wine with our meal – Liz a Chablis and I had some red Vin de Pays d’Herault. We also had a coffee/peppermint tea at the end and our bill, including 12.5% tip, was just under £40. That really is excellent value for a good meal, complimentary bottles of filtered water, nice cotton napkins and good service. Not to mention that nice little touch of Paris for a couple of hours.