Cards on the table, I’m a big fan of Côte. Although I’m not a regular frequenter of chain restaurants per se, it has always been the best of the bunch as far as I’m concerned – along with Pizza Express.
The light and airy Quakers Friars Côte isn’t, perhaps, as ‘classic brasserie’ as its darker, more atmospheric sibling in Clifton Village and it’s more popular during the day than in the evening when the area is quiet. With its outdoor tables and views of the Apple shop and Harvey Nichols across the piazza, it’s a popular haunt for shoppers.
Its location also means that it has a more transient clientele than Clifton, which attracts a lot of locals and an older crowd generally. At 6.30pm on Saturday, most of our fellow diners in Quakers Friars were either people lugging around shopping bags or young couples grabbing a quick bite before hitting the bars and clubs.
There’s a new menu at Côte and it has been created by the chain’s Executive Head Chef, Steve Allen, who was previously Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in London. Although the classic Côte dishes remain – including the signature steaks – there are more vegetarian and vegan dishes.
As well as the old favourite of crab Maison (£9.75), we ordered one of the vegan starters – the beet tartare (£6.50). Both arrived with plentiful slices of toasted baguette.
Sitting on slices of cucumber, the puck of crab meat was flecked with capers and red onion, with razor-thin slices of radish and a tangle of pea shoots on top. My friend thought the crab tasted a bit like the Shippam’s crab paste she remembered in school sandwiches around the time of the Silver Jubilee of 1977 – a timely reminder as we approach the Queen’s Platinum celebrations.
The beet tartare was more interesting as the marinated red beetroot had been chopped finely and drizzled with mustard vinaigrette. It was encircled by a swirl of basil oil and yoghurt dressing.
The earthiness of the beetroot worked well with the punchy vinaigrette. As a vegan dish, the yoghurt dressing was presumably made with a substitute such as a soya version or the ridiculously named ‘oatgurt’ I spotted in the supermarket recently.
From the main courses, we also picked out two new dishes to try. I went for the confit de canard (£17.25) and my friend tried the 7oz fillet noir steak (£28.95).
The fillet noir was a substantial dish with two thick slices of perfectly cooked steak, charred baby gem lettuce and black garlic jus. The advertised truffle potato dauphinoise wasn’t available so we substituted it with the excellent triple cooked truffle chips.
The only element of this new dish we weren’t convinced by was the ‘mushroom marmalade’ sauce. Although not overly sweet, and studded with mushrooms, the zestiness of the heavy sauce wasn’t a natural pairing and it overpowered the steak.
The duck leg confit was nicely handled – the skin was crisp and the meat tender and juicy beneath. The slices of grilled butternut squash were a little dry and claggy but, like the steak, the blanket of orange sauce was a little overwhelming.
Although not really my idea of dessert in a French restaurant – give me crème caramel or lemon tart any day – it would have been rude not to order the espresso martini crêpes. After all, it’s apparently one of the new desserts that’s already proving a real hit with diners.
The two lacy crêpes had been brushed with sweet coffee syrup and topped with caramelised sugar and a creamy, frothy coffee crème fraiche. For a final flourish, the waiter poured over a warm martini-infused sauce that was boozy, chocolatey and irresistible – it must be one of the most decadent desserts in Bristol at the moment.
The Pavlova (£6.95) was light and fruity with crunchy meringue, fluffy Chantilly cream and plenty of mixed berries. Although neither of the fruity sauces with the new main courses really hit the sweet spot for us, the delicious desserts at Côte certainly did.
Côte, 6-8 Quakers Friars, Broadmead, Bristol, BS1 3BU. Tel: 0117 4289958.