Sue Choularton finds French flair at Wimbledon Hill's Côte Restaurant
It's great when you find a restaurant which achieves the rare combination of having a smart, upmarket feel, along with a relaxed atmosphere that makes you feel like lingering for an age over your final coffee.
Côte's SW19 restaurant is just over the brow of Wimbledon hill in the High Street and has an exterior that is definitely aiming to capture the look of a Parisian brasserie.
We had a friendly welcome on arrival and were given a choice of a window seat overlooking Wimbledon Village or the more bustly-looking rear area. We opted for the village view and were soon eating an entree of olives as we browsed the menu.
The French influence is clear, as the menu included starters such as moules marinières and mushroom feuilleté (puff pastry with a wild mushroom sauce and espelette pepper). But I opted for pissaladière - traditional warm flatbread from Nice with caramelised onions, anchovies, olives and parsley, while my companion had carrot, red lentil and coriander soup with crème fraîche.
The pissaladière came on a wooden board and would have been enough to share. There were not too many anchovies and olives to make it an over-powering starter. The carrot, red lentil and coriander soup was thick and tasty.
For a main course, you can select from 'light mains' (including tuna Niçoise and wild mushroom cassoule), 'meat and fish' (including lamb shank and roast sea bass), 'grills' - Breton chicken with choice of sauces or 'steaks' - Irish steaks, again with a choice of sauces. I felt like something warming and went for 'risotto vert' from the lighter menu, which came with grilled asparagus, broad beans, spring onions, courgette, green beans, baby spinach, pesto and rocket.
My dish was appropriately named, as it really did include every type of green vegetable imaginable and was topped with lots of spicy rocket. The risotto was perfect and it was a very generous portion - impossible to finish after my big starter.
My dining partner went for 'fish parmentier' - cod, haddock, prawn and salmon in a creamy white wine and leek sauce, topped with mash potato and gruyère cheese. It was full of taste, with the cheese adding to the fishy flavour attack.
We shared a side order of tomato salad and each had glass of white wine - Château Du Poyet 2008, Muscadet De Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie and Sauvignon Blanc La Place 2008, Vin De Pays Des Côtes De Gascogne. Wine by the glass only came in 175ml sizes (the lack of a 250ml size was something the 'next door' table commented on) and my Sauvignon Blanc was so good I had to have another.
It was impossible for us to manage a dessert, but the French influence was again clear - with the menu including tarte fine aux pommes, chocolate fondant and crème brûlée. Still, I could manage a cafe noisette, which stood a mile apart from anything you'll get in a High Street coffee shop.
This was certainly a place you'd go for an entire evening out - not just a quick bite, and we did have to wait a little while for each course. But there really was a relaxed, informal, atmosphere and although it wasn't totally full - it felt like it was fairly packed. All the diners seemed to be out for an enjoyable, chatty evening, with their friends and family - and this was just the place for that.
I thought our £60.08 bill (including 12.5% service charge) was excellent value for a great night - definitely a cut above most meals you'd get for £30-a-head, and you can see why the Côte chain won the 2009 Good Food Guide award for "Best Value Restaurant in the UK". As we left, the waitress told us their lunchtime deals had proved to be very popular - I'm sure she's right.
Sue Choularton is the Editor of WimbledonSW19.com which will be launched imminently. The new site will be the latest addition to the Neighbour Net groups of websites.
July 25, 2010