Côte and Browns Brasserie

DEJA VU!

I have previously remarked ( LN Oct 2007 p.3) that Brasseries in Cardiff are like buses; they come along in twos! Now it’s happened again with Côte opening at Mermaid Quay and Browns Brasserie on The Friary (where HaHa’s used to be).

Côte is a small chain of French Bistros with a good pedigree coming from the stable of the Richard Caring Group (think The Ivy, Le Caprice, Soho House) and is mainly based in the South East of England so Cardiff has done well to be host to this restaurant.

The Gallic flavour is reflected by the blue and white stripped blinds on the outside but I was not over-impressed with the interior of the restaurant which, although it had elements of the French Bistro, does not give you the ‘je ne sais pas’ feeling of Garcon! or Cafe Rouge around the corner.

Looking at the menu however, you could think that you were in Café Rouge and the prices are pretty similar - I hope they’re not running a cartel! This is not to knock Côte; the quality of the food is good and, I think, benefits from slightly more personal attention than from the larger franchise of Café Rouge. In addition to the wide range of french style starters and main courses, there is a good Early Evening Fixed Price Menu at £9.95 for two courses – particularly handy given that you are right opposite the Millennium Centre.

Brown’s Brasserie is also part of a smallish chain which first opened in Brighton in 1973; some of you may know the branches in Bath and Bristol. Browns usually go for older buildings with a point of interest; the site in Cardiff is of course a modern unit but in a great location and the £600,000.00 that they have spent refurbishing the interior is money well spent as they have created a very warm 1930 – 1940’s atmosphere with dark woods, potted plants and, when we visited, a pianist on a grand piano. The Staff have long white aprons and the long bar has been topped with brass to give you the brasserie atmosphere and there is good lighting, especially the small individual table lamps on some of the tables which create a modern bistro feel.

The menu is not as strictly french and some of the dishes have a definite English air about them, such as crab and lobster croquettes, a modern looking prawn cocktail, and their signature Steak Mushroom and Guiness Pie! There is the classic ‘steak frites’ dish which at £12.95 is considerably more than you would normally pay but is in fact a 6oz sirloin not the usual Minute Steak. There is a good selection of other steaks including fillet steak at £20.95 but there are also some interesting dishes such as the Confit of Suffolk Pork Belly and Wild Boar and Chorizo Burger. Their haunch of venison steak had excellent flavour, at £17.95, on an extremely tasty sauce (not a ‘jus’, much to CDC’s relief). If you have a large appetite, then go for the slow cooked shoulder of Welsh Lamb (£15.95) which looks as though it could almost do as a Sunday joint for a small family!

There is a very sensible wine list starting at £14.95 with plenty of selection up to £20.00 (try the Roussilion or the Rioja) and, for the summer evenings, a Sancerre Rose at £24.95 is pretty good value.

Brown’s is also open for Breakfast, traditional Sunday lunches and Afternoon Teas, one of which is a Tea for Two consisting of smoked salmon sandwiches, mini cakes and fruit scones, a large pot of tea and a double Hendrick’s Gin and Tonic – now that’s what I call a tea with a difference!

They will have to sell a lot of steak and chips to get a return on the £600,000.00 but, with the location, friendly service and good food, I have no doubt that they will do so!

Richard Fisher

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