Ask me to pick a vegetarian restaurant for an evening out and I’ll pick any food but French! Hence, I was really curious and somewhat sceptical when we were asked to review Côte Brasserie’s vegetarian menu.
It’s painful really because the pride and joy I feel for my national cuisine stops when I talk about vegetarian or vegan food. This is clearly something we French generally do not do well and most do not understand. The idea of making vegetables the star of the show is a notion we do not grasp yet. Frustrating really, especially when you stroll through a farmers’ market seeing all the beautiful produce, only to find them on a menu as a side dish or next to the meat or fish centrepiece.
So last week, Graham and I headed to Wimbledon to dine at Côte Bistro, the original site of the chain which now boasts 99 locations across the UK.
A stroll through Wimbledon Village is always a treat. I love the mix of shops, bars, restaurants and cafés. Côte Bistro is located towards the beginning of Wimbledon High Street. While it looks tiny from the outside, there is actually a spacious and cosy restaurant inside, decorated with the flair of a French brasserie.
Apéritif (an alcoholic beverage served before a meal) is one of my favourite French customs, so we kicked off the evening with a Kir Royal and a Provençal Pissaladière, a flat bread with goat cheese and black olives.
On top of its regular menus and Prestige menu, Côte Brasserie has a dedicated vegetarian menu as well as a vegetarian drinks menu. Yes, you have read this right, a non vegetarian French restaurant has a dedicated vegetarian menu. I like the convenience of having all the veggie dishes together but more importantly this also means that there is more vegetarian choice than in a restaurant offering only one main menu.
Browsing through the five different starters I opted for the Mushroom Brioche and Graham for the Seasonal English Asparagus. French Onion Soup, Seasonal Soup and Eggs Florentine were also on offer.
My mushrooms were served on toasted brioche and smothered in a creamy and velvety wild mushroom sauce. A refined version of “mushrooms on toast”, this was absolutely delicious. The brioche was soft and slightly sweet and paired perfectly with the sauce and the mushrooms.
Graham picked a tarragon and chive vinaigrette for his asparagus. There was a hint of chervil too. This was a very enjoyable classic dish full of flavours. Unfortunately, the asparagus was slightly under cooked. One more minute in the pan and they would have been perfect.
My main course was vegetarian sausages with salardaise potatoes. I love vegetables and have a weakness for potatoes. As far as I am concerned a good potato dish or side is hard to beat. Salardaise potatoes (a staple dish in the South West of France) are traditionally slowly cooked in duck fat. These were perfectly soft, cooked in butter and served with garlic, parsley and pearl onions. When my plate arrived, I was not expecting much of the vegetarian sausages as they looked mainly dry. From the first bite, they turned out to be delicious . Blending grilled spinach and cheddar, with a hint of nutmeg, they had a surprising bite and texture I was not expecting. I swapped the Dijonnaise sauce for some Dijon mustard. Superb!
From a choice of Spinach and Mushroom Crêpes, Braised Puy Lentils, Omelette, Goats Cheese Salad or Asparagus Risotto, Graham opted for the Mushroom and Mozzarella Salad. Topped with a chargrilled field mushroom and mozzarella, this salad includes avocado, baby gem lettuce, baby spinach, shallots, French beans and walnuts all tossed in a mustard dressing. This was again very tasty, but as a mushroom lover, Graham was left a bit disappointed that there was only one large mushroom. He even asked to see the menu again, as the waiter pointed out that it referred to the dish with “mushroom” in the singular! Overall this would would have been more satisfying with one more mushroom and one less slice of mozzarella. All it was missing was an “s”.
Our wine choice for the evening a (vegan) Fleurie 2016 La Bonne Dame worked really well with all the dishes.
There were quite a lot of side dishes on offer from frites, green salad, minted peas, gratin potato, creamed spinach etc… but frankly the portions were so generous that we did not feel the need to order anything extra.
Still my dinner companion found some space for dessert, as he always does, especially if Crème Brûlée is on the menu. Lucky him! It had a scrumptious lemon twist. The perfect end to our French vegetarian feast.
After many disappointing experiences of vegetarian cuisine in France, we were really pleasantly surprised by Côte Brasserie’s vegetarian menu. The staff was really friendly (also a nice change from my country’s reputation for rudeness 🙂 ) and the food was delicious yet unpretentious which made for a truly enjoyable evening. They were not many vegan options, as cheese and eggs are quite prominently featured. However, if you prefer a completely plant-based menu you can ask for certain dishes to be made without cheese or eggs.
Thank you Côte Brasserie for restoring our faith in French vegetarian cuisine!
Disclaimer: we were guests at Côte Brasserie. Our comments and review remain our own and completely honest.