So hard on the heels of reviewing the chicken and steak at Tramshed, I find myself in Cote Brasserie in Islington looking at a £9.95 weekend specials list comprising… half roast chicken and steak-frites! To be fair, they serve far more, much in the brasserie tradition as witnessed by the main menu: soups, salads, pissaladière – check; charcuterie, tartare – check; goujons, moules, niçoise – check; roasts, steaks, chickens – check; comfy booths and relaxed atmosphere – check. This is a reassuringly French-style brasserie and no mistake, as it was designed to be. The probably did the beer too, had I looked for it.
Since I have a big consignment of top notch Donald Russell steak in my freezer, how about chicken: half chicken roasted with sage and rosemary, wild mushroom, crème fraîche and thyme sauce, served with gratin potato (surely no different to dauphinoise?) and fine beans, to be exact.
Regular readers will know I am very exacting about chicken, since 98% of chicken purchases are made from meat that is bland, insipid, tasteless and entirely contrary to the principles of good eating. Small wonder then that it is dressed up in a range of sauces and fried coatings, all the better to mask the low quality of what is foisted upon us by supermarkets.
Thing is, it’s not especially difficult to source really good, tasty chickens at a reasonable price – if we make the effort. A quick google will find you lots of farms and butchers selling really wonderful slow-grown corn-fed free range and often organic chickens that are a world away from your cheapo Tesco battery farm birds.
Mark Hix found an excellent source for his in Goosnargh, near Preston, but I can find excellent products right here in rural Essex – in the same way that I buy brilliant bronze turkeys from local farms every Christmas. If you’ve not tried them you won’t appreciate the huge difference, nor why it’s worth paying a bit more to get really good poultry.
In this case the chickens are advertised as being Breton. On its own this does not guarantee quality provenance, since the French probably produce cheap and nasty products just the same as we do. It’s a marketing con to make us believe something is good because it was manufactured in the same location as a traditional product, so for example not all Cornish pasties made in Cornwall are equally good.
But I digress. The highlight of the French chicken world are Bresse chickens, both a breed and a region in the East of France, and raised to exacting standards. This chicken was small, not unlike those from Bresse; it was packed with flavour and was meltingly tender, the sign of a happy bird that has spent a longer than average life pecking in the woods, sympathetically prepared and cooked, rested and served. Even at a keen price, I have no hesitation in saying this was an excellent chicken, and credit to Cote for their sourcing – for which there really is no substitute.
Not only that, but the sauce matched the source pound for pound; the gratin was more than presentable, and the beans were nicely al dente. At under a tenner, this is, by London standards, prime value. My companion chose the following from the starter menu:
Smoked Salmon 6,95
sliced smoked Scottish salmon with dill, shallots, baby capers and crème fraîche dressing
For the price, it was impressive: a good portion, beautifully presented and apparently delicious, not that I tried any. We also sampled coffees and a peppermint tea that looked ravishing, and thankfully less sweetened than the Moroccan mint tea sampled recently in Marrakech.
All told, a pleasant lunch and certainly a French chain worth seeking out. Recommended for doing exactly what it promises without compromise, doing it well and keeping it simple, as all good restaurants should.