Ah, the chains, the chains. Nothing seems to divide diners more. (Brighton Taco Bell gate, I'm looking at you.) Although I do tend to stick to the indies, I've made no secret for my love of Côte. The Brighton branch is a particular gem, housed in the most beautiful, lofty building that used to be a music library (and yeah, I'm old enough to remember it being open). But made all the more splendid with Cote's signature interior of brass rails, gold leaf, generous booths, good lighting and bistro style seating.
I popped up to Lewes to visit the new branch, and it seems they have an eye for feature buildings. Formerly a bank, a few of the original mouldings seem to be in tact and the Côte design has translated beautifully. But a restaurant, chain or not, can't survive on sexy tiles alone. I've always loved the accessible, classic French Brasserie food here; char grilled chicken, nicoise salads, beef bourguigon and of course, steak frites. Uncomplicated, refined comfort food in a decent setting with great service and sensible pricing. What's not to like?
There's a certain comfort in the chains too, we are all but creatures of habit at heart, particularly with food, and maybe once you've had kids, parents tend to gravitate to them. They offer a safe haven where you won't be judged (not to your face anyway) by some haughty waiter as one of your kids shoves a green bean up their nose or gets hangry 0.25 seconds after taking their seat. You know they'll be good baby changing facilities, high chairs and that the kids will be catered for well, all with an air of slight anonymity so that if it all does go wonky, you won't be barred for life. Now there is a market for Pizza Hut, Maccy Ds and the like, but it's not food I want to eat, or, in honestly, food I want my kids to eat. And they don't. After a golden arch party, my 6 year old asked if I was going to cook him a proper meal when we got home. And that's not intended as a snobby remark, each to their own, I just want to transfer the food and restaurant culture I've had onward which seems to have weaved its way in. My two appreciate dining out, being allowed to choose from the menu and are quite happy sitting at a table for a couple of hours, so I want to take them to a place I want to eat in too. The independent restaurants are cottoning on too, I'm seeing less chips and sausages and more of a focus on tailored, simpler dishes which still suit the main menu, some of them even go as far to offer the children's meal for free with a paying adult.
For a chain, Côte fits my bill perfectly for dining with children - there's a good choice for them, and I don't have to eat doughballs. Win win. This was never intended to be a review for dining with kids, in fact, I've eaten at this chain plenty of times and never brought them with me before, but here we all find ourselves. If you haven't got little ones, this is of course still a good choice and don't worry, the restaurant isn't overrun with them either. (I get you, I couldn't stand them before I had my own!)
We started with a nice variety of charcuterie; tender smoked duck breast, well seasoned saucisson and jambon de Savoie. There was chunky char grilled bread to slather duck rilettes on. The mixed leaf salad, such an overlooked accoutrement was piquant with pickles and shallots, ideal for the meats.
Calimari is a must-order for us, here tender and coated in crisp panko breadcrumbs with enough garlic to make you uneasy about kissing for the rest of the day. With wedges of lemon and a decent tartare, they challenged our family bond as we all scrabbled for our fair share.
I know the steak frites are good here, it's my staple order but forced myself to order something else and it didn't disappoint. The sweetness of my roast seabass was enhanced with huge hunks of braised fennel and a silky buerre blanc, dotted with tomato concasse (fancy for peeled and neatly chopped). Again, this dish is exactly why I like the place; tasty bistro food to enjoy with a decent glass of wine. There's a time and a place for thought provoking, creative food, but more often than not we want to get stuck in and savour. No one in their right mind would order Sound of The Sea for their death row meal now would they?
On the other side of the table the kids were tucking into smaller portions of char grilled Breton chicken and fish goujons, green beans and those perfectly thin and crisp frites. Yes, this is middle class fish fingers and chicken and chips but done well with quality ingredients and food I feel good about them eating. My 3 year old gave the waitress a thumbs up when asked if all was ok with the meal, so clearly went down well for all. I'll work on the child's manners next.
Desserts looked to the French classics too; chocolate fondants and mousse, apple or lemon tarts, crepes, and creme brûlée. Sadly feeling far too full for any of that, and looking longingly at the pain perdu special, I had the lighter option of frozen berries with warm white chocolate which was delineate but a sweet punctuation to a good meal.
Naturally, individual scoops of chocolate ice cream followed for the kids, I'm not a complete killjoy.
I often wondered if I like Côte so much as I have a real love for the stylish environment and building of the restaurant in Brighton but no, the food is always predictably enjoyable. Catching up with some Lewes friends after in the nearby Southover Grange Gardens (I bloody love a formal garden) they said the chain had been well received locally and was often bustling. I've always perceived Lewes residents to be a tough crowd and fiercely indie (I've read the Lewes Forum - crikey) so it speaks volumes that this branch is clearly at home here.
82 High St