August 20th is our anniversary and this was the opportunity to go somewhere that had been recommended to us by more than one person. It definitely has a few fans by having a look at the feedback on Google and Facebook, including Latoyah at Sugar Pink Food. Cote Brasserie sits on the Exeter’s historic Cathedral Green within earshot of Michael Caines Abode and just a down the road from Southernhay House. This is the end of town that you want to dress-up nicely for, so I was forced to wear a shirt. Nor did I hump along my DSLR as this was a romantic meal, but I still took lots of photos with my phone.
The Cote Brasserie brand is about replicating the famous bistros of Paris, this is done through the interior and the uniforms as well as the food. Also the ‘optional’ 12.4% Service Charge that is added on to the bill at the end, because darlings ‘service non compris’. And does it go to the staff? No, of course not.
The atmosphere is friendly and congenial, as you walk through the restaurant there are smiles and greetings. The friendliness is like walking through a party where, everyone knows you and they’re all dressed up as waiters and diners. The bustle and hubbub invokes feeling of a continental night out, as we sat at our table with a Cathedral view (as requested when I booked the table) one could have been waiting for a friend with a silky French accent who was jetting in frow New York, or possibly having an interview with a political dissident for a high-brow broadsheet. The experience of just sitting there waiting for our drinks, took us out of Exeter and mentally plonked us somewhere in Montmarte.
Cote Brasserie has some enticing items on their menu (10oz steaks, very reasonably priced) but we were going for their weekday offer. The lunch and early evening offer seems fantastic value, between 12pm – 7pm but beware as it can be deceptively expensive (I know three courses for £11.90 is an amazing deal, and yes I know there is no pleasing some people, but hear me out!). Our meal included at £2.00 surcharge for Steak and Fries, and the waiter recommended that we have a side with the meal as it is just steak and chips, yes we could have just ignored this but that was an extra £5.50 on to the meal, and then the drinks which were stupidly priced (nearly £4.00 for a tiny bottle of Kronenburg? yup…) and the glass of wine which was as ever overpriced as these sorts of places are. And the service charge too.
I will discuss my gripe about the service charge at the end, but let us not lose focus. I started things off with a Carpaccio of Seasonal Golden Beetroot with Creme Fraiche, Pea Shoots and a Hazelnut Dressing which was delightful. The Hazelnuts were less dressed on the plate, more frantically scattered but it was a lovely beginning to the rest of the meal which was, in terms of quality of taste, exceptional. Tori had the Duck, Chicken and Ham Terrine which went down well with good meaty chunks, a well balanced starter.
We both had Steak Frites as the theme of the night was ‘Steak’ and we both had the hankering for a steak, so this was the perfect compromise. A beaten minute steak served with fries; of course we had been talked in to having a sides too, which was a delicately dressed Green Salad. The combination was very nice, and with the beautifully cooked steak, the delight of the main overshadowed the rather pale choice of desserts.
Again, I mustn’t grumble. This was a great set menu so far, and the ‘Peach Crumble’ with Normandy Butter Crumble and Vanilla Ice Cream was very tasty. Tori had something chocolatey, which made her very happy.
The service throughout was great, we had about three waiters who were all very attentive and eager to please. When the Steak Frites came out, Tori had gone to the loo and the waiter attentively offered to put it under a hot lamp to prevent it going cold. One thing that kept on striking me again and again was how excellent the service was.
So this brings me on to the prickly subject of the service charge.
I would happily have paid the whole service charge, generally the rule of thumb is 10%, but recently it has been revealed that this ‘optional’ service charge that is added to your bill does not go to the staff but straight to the company. Their argument is that their staff is paid more than minimum wage and this practice allows them to do this, but within the article it quotes a member of Cote staff saying “We are told by management that we don’t get to keep the service charge because we get paid more than the minimum wage, so we should be grateful, but most of us would prefer earning the minimum wage and taking home our tips for the hard work we do,”
And not to be unfair to Cote, they say the following on their website. “Company policy is that where customers leave a cash tip, it is at the waiters’ discretion to keep it for themselves or to include it in a general pot with other members of staff. Any deviation from this policy will be investigated and disciplinary action taken where appropriate.” which makes no sense.
So lets conclude:
Pros – Excellent food and service. If you can get a seat by the window, some beautiful scenery of the Cathedral.
Cons – Expensive drinks, dubious service charge, lots of stairs (not overly accessible if you’re not very mobile). Chain restaurant, why go here when you could support our local independents?
Given the whole curfuffle with the service charge fiasco, I can’t recommend this restaurant yet. If they were to change this policy, then I this would definitely change.
19-21 Cathedral Yard, Exeter, Devon EX1 1HB