Restaurant Review: Cote Brasserie, Birmingham

Warning signs were present. French-themed brasserie chain: tick. Central location at the Mailbox: tick. You  know the odds are against getting a decent meal, but I had read a snippet in “What’s On?” saying that new opening Cote Brasserie is the brainchild of the bloke who owns J Sheekey, one of my all-time favourite London restaurants.

It was a lovely day and we were ravenous after a 5 mile walk along the Harborne walkway and the canal into Brindleyplace so we thought we’d risk it. There’s hardly anything decent in the mid-range category in central Birmingham. Usually we end up at Mount Fuji or Cafe Soya.

First impressions were favourable: attractive waiting staff and rapid service. Hannah was happy with her order of two Oranginas, in happy shake-the-bottle-wake-the-taste glass bottles, not the plastic aberrations. My glass of Sauvignon Blanc was just a bit too warm and a bit too mean in volume to really satisfy.

The menu looked promising, despite a number of distinctly unfrench dishes. Cote is styled as a classic French bistro, but can you imagine anyone ordering a risotto verdi or seafood linguine in such an establishment?

They did offer a number of speciality breads including fougasse and pissaladiere which seems like a novel and interesting idea. We shared a portion of the latter, topped with inauthentic reblochon. This was melted over a pre-prepared crispy base, slathered in a vapid onion mush whose dominant flavour was extreme sweetness.

A poor start, but one dish does not make a restaurant and we were still enjoying the nice weather and outside comings-and-goings.

Inevitably the meal and the weather took a turn for the worse, seemingly simultaneously. The menu claimed steak frites was intended to be served pink, and came from a flattened piece of rump steak, one of the tastier cuts of the animal. The reality was a bit grim – if the steak had been any flatter it could have been pushed under a door. The lack of an interior meant a lack of any place for pinkness to reside. The flavour of the meat wasn’t great – it didn’t seem well-aged or well-sourced. The menu boasted an Irish source – why go so far when we have great meat produced on our doorstep? The frites were OK. The green salad was mainly spinach and the dressing had no acidity. Inexplicably there was lots of fresh tarragon in it.

Hannah’s roasted sea bass was so overcooked it must have been called away before she’d even decided to order it. A true shocker. The side of creamed spinach was actually tasty but wasn’t seasoned. A quick couple of turns of the salt mill sorted this out. Clearly the kitchen wasn’t tasting what was going out, and it wasn’t even that busy.

We skipped desserts.

Why post this review and not just complain at the time? A good question – we thought about it but as Hannah pointed out: “Once you complain, they take it back and replace it and I don’t even want another one now”. Much better to slag them off on the Internet!

No seriously, I will send this to the manager of Cote Brasserie and they can decide if they want to take these comments on board. To be fair to them, a few tweaks in the kitchen, and an upgrade of the beef and this place could actually be half-decent.

But at the moment this is about as authentic as Cafe Rouge and about as appealing a proposition for lunch. Actually its worse than Cafe Rouge, at least there you know in advance there is no possible way you will eat well and you can set expectations accordingly. Cote offered the cruel hope of a reasonably priced bistro in Birmingham that wasn’t shit, but dashed those hopes within 45 minutes.

Meal was: £55 including built-in 12.5% service charge.

Rating: 2/5