FOR all but the fine dining connoisseur, French restaurants have the unfortunate tendency to conjur up disturbing imagery of florid, illegible menus and arrogant moustached waiters twirling beneath sparkling chandeliers.
Despite today’s cuisine-savvy diners able to tell their bisque from their bouillon, the stigma surrounding French cooking still seems somewhat stuck in this country’s social fabric.
And While Marlow’s newest eatery Cote Brasserie doesn’t aim to knock the Rouxs off their posh Parisian perch, it manages to breathe fresh air into genre, serving up solid French classics at a reasonable price.
The brasserie chain has done a fine job overhauling the former Thai Square restaurant on West Street.
The former pub building looks unrecognisable with its bold, black painted exterior giving way to a light, airy interior with calming shades of grey and soft globed lighting peppering the high, skylit ceiling.
Arriving on a Friday night in opening week, Cote was understandably full as my girlfriend Tori and I made our way to the table amid the pleasing murmur of conversations and rich whiffs of garlic and roasting meat.
And there are worse ways to be greeted than with a glass of Kir Royale (£3.95) as we chose from Cote’s solid menu of classics, grills, rustic starters and rich titbits.
For starters I ordered the quintessential French favourite, chicken liver parfait (£5.95), which was astonishingly smooth and rich.
Tori had the crab mayonnaise (£6.95), served as a beautifully presented cylinder, with the smooth, fresh mixture peppered with the salty zing of capers and pleasing crunch of diced cucumber.
For main course, I couldn’t overlook the pan roasted pork belly (£12.95), with a potato, crème fraiche and chive puree.
And while this dish can be seen on gastropub menus up and down the land, it was the delightful touch of a calvados jus along with the caramelised apples that reasserted this menu’s solid French roots.
The chargrilled flavour on Tori’s griddled tuna Nicoise (£12.50) really brought the salad dish to life, and got the nod of approval from someone who regularly eats the original during work trips to the Cote D’Azur.
And small touches like a glistening, soft runny yolk in the large salad showed an attention to detail which can remain absent in a busy chain restaurant.
As you would expect from any self respecting brasserie, the wine list is capacious (perhaps too long), varied and very French.
We opted for a versatile and fruity Bordeaux, eminently quaffable and proof if anyone needed it that the French have that part of the menu all sewed up.
And finding a little room for dessert from somewhere, Tori and I shared an eye-poppingly rich chocolate fondant (£5.25) which melted and oozed in all the right places.
The food is reasonably priced, but being a well honed and seasoned chain, the beauty of Cote is you don’t have to spend that much on a good feed.
The lunch and early evening menu gives diners the chance to sample some classic French dishes such as steak frites or roasted asparagus in a two course menu for only £9.95 per head.
Cote has the feel of a non-pretentious, airy French brasserie, which does what it sets out to do very well indeed.
If it’s top end French fine dining you’re looking for, this isn’t your place. But if it’s well priced, robust French dishes you’re after - voila.
Go to www.cote-restaurants.co.uk