Opening up in that bit Jack Wills sold next to Cafe Rouge, Côte has just opened up a branch on Canterbury High Street. Now, when they invited me along to review their new branch I almost said no, on the basis that I don't really review chains. If it were London, I think I would have declined, but in Canterbury where we have less choice and a smaller area (and therefore are more lightly to repeat restaurants too) I think we actually quite like a good chain, which is why I chose to review the new Byron that opened up this Summer.
I'd never actually eaten at a Côte before, so at the time our table was booked, I decided to approach it with an open mind as the menu on the website sounded delicious. I'm really glad I did as I really enjoyed the meal. However, with all the recent press regarding how Côte as a chain deal with staff tips, I felt that I could not really review it without addressing the issue and giving my thoughts. Côte themselves have written their own statement on their website.
On the one hand I do think reports that staff at restaurants are not being given the tips that are intended for them and it is something that should be investigated, and possibly legislated, though I also think it would be wrong for a member of staff to get to keep every penny of the tip they personally have earned. How many of you go into the kitchens and also tip the kitchen staff who have cooked the meal your wait staff have presented to you, and the dishwashers who clear up after you? I thought not. I do think it is fair that some tip is redistributed, because it means that the hard working staff behind the scenes in restaurants also get a cut and they don't miss out for not being front of house. I think restaurants, especially big chains need to be more transparent about what happens to the tips we all leave, but because a restaurant is reported to have some shady practices, I do not necessarily think that is a reason to boycott it, which is why I went ahead with this review. To avoid a restaurant to protest treatment of the staff can actually do more harm than good; I'm not saying that the behaviour like this that has been reported should be rewarded, but a drop in custom for a chain that leads to losses, could very well mean the closure of restaurants, and the staff you are trying to show solidarity with losing their jobs and the entirety of their pay check.
To start and to go with my glass of white wine we decided to share a Pissaladière. My main motivation behind seeing it on the menu and wanting to order it was because I make my own version, and I was curious to see how it held up. Okay, so I was always going to think that mine was better, but we did both agree (this is another Mummy/ daughter review!) that the flatbread topped with slow cooked caramelised onions, black olives, anchovies, thyme and parsley was a lovely savoury nibble at the beginning of the meal.
To start, my mother went for the Tomates Breton, a mixture of heritage Breton tomatoes served with soft goats cheese, black olives, shallots and capers served on grilled sourdough. She really enjoyed it, though she noted that two pieces of bread was overkill when it came to a starter, and that the tomatoes could have been a bit riper (though, she always says that unless we're talking about tomatoes that she has grown herself!)
I really loved my very simple, but perfectly executed starter of charentais melon and savoie ham, served with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a good scattering of pungent chives. I know it is a pretty basic dish, but it was executed perfectly, with all the ingredients at their prime.
Since I first had a look at the current version of Côte's menu (it is seasonal) I knew that I wanted to order the Breton Stew for my main. I'm all over anything with seafood, so you can imagine my reaction to a classic French stew of tomatoes, herbs, white wine, potatoes and leeks with just a hint of chilli, that has had prawns, mussels, clams and squid thrown in, with a nice shard of sea bass perched on top? Served with good French bread to mop up all the juices, I wish that I could actually order a 'Breton' stew like this near where we live in Brittany. The flavours were classic and perfect, and all of the seafood was cooked to just how it should be, no easy feat in a mixed seafood dish. I will probably be ordering this again next time.
As she tends to have a smaller stomach than most other people, my mother ordered the Chicken and Walnut Salad from their 'Light Mains' menu section, featuring chargrilled chicken with avocado, baby gem, baby spinach, french beans, shallots, caramelised walnuts, croutons and a mustard dressing. She really enjoyed it, especially the walnuts, it was apparently as delicious as it sounds. However, she only managed about half of it, it really was as big as it looks! Not sure if it counts as a lighter bite though, so if you're after a light lunch, I'd actually recommend ordering a starter or two rather than anything from the main menu.
Not really because we needed any more food, but because I feel that if I want to review a lunch spot like this properly you need to try the French Fries, we got some to share. There was nothing revelatory about them, they were just good, solid crisp fries with a fluffy middle, just want you want to pick at with your salad.
For desserts, we both decided to keep it traditional. I went for the dark chocolate mousse, a good French classic executed perfectly, and dusted with cocoa powder for an extra special velvety finish which I thought was a really simple way to give it an extra special flourish. (This is how you make a classic French chocolate mousse). My mother had their house speciality, a creme caramel that was simply delicious; as well as looking great, it had the perfect amount of wobble, and a good balance between creaminess and dark caramel. Côte's desserts are exactly what you'd want and expect, not a course to skip.
We both really enjoyed our lunch at Côte in Canterbury, and I'm glad that I decided to go along instead of cancelling last minute, which is what I considered after reading a few recent press reports. Our meal would have come in at around £55 for the two of us, including my wine, which I think is fantastic value considering how much food we had. I will be probably heading back into the Canterbury branch for a light lunch when out shopping, or for dinner with friends sometime soon, but I will be keeping an eye on things, because I'm very interested in how restaurant policy for how staffs tips are handled is going to develop.