"What time are you closing tonight?" I asked the waitress casually. "12 am," came the answer, "but luckily I'm not doing the closing." As our lunch progressed into the late afternoon, another shift gradually took over. Cote Brasserie, newly opened along Islington Upper Street, must be the only restaurant running after 6pm on Christmas eve - a relief for those who are staying put in London instead of braving the commute to families hundreds of miles away for Christmas.
"KJ is experimenting on the recipe I passed her," YQ murmured wistfully. He was in town again for a couple of days on a work trip. Well, KJ, if you are reading this, he was eying his phone half the time during the Christmas eve lunch we had with him, just in case you messaged him.
I recall Wife was quite excited about Cote Brasserie opening up a branch at our doorstep and rightly so. Already hailed as an affordable decent French restaurant chain, it won the "Best value restaurant" award given out by the Good Food Guide in 2009.
Other than the workers' cafes found along Chapel Market, there is hardly anything else to be had in the early morning within a five minute walk from Angel tube station. Cote Brasserie, which starts dishing out breakfasts at 8am, is a godsend in that respect.
However, the real deal is Cote Brasserie's set lunches - two courses for under a tenner from Monday to Friday. If you stop by during the weekends, you could elect to have either half a roast chicken or steak frites for just £9.95.
That was exactly what we had for our Christmas eve lunch. Both YQ and Wife was quite taken by Cote Brasserie's frites steak. Very thinly cut, still pink in the centre with grill lines cutting across it - a testament of flash grill the slender (and tender) steak had been subjected to.
In many ways, the dish is what you would imagine the French to feast on. Not a single ounce of fat on the steak (at least not visibly so). Even the accompanying frites were slender. Fried to a crisp, they are something for you to munch on if you so desire to spend the entire afternoon at the brasserie reading the newspapers laid out on the front table.
The old adage of food that tastes good probably isn't healthy surely doesn't apply to Cote Brasserie's roast chicken. Instead of overly marinating the chicken, the creamy gravy provided the taste to the evenly roasted chicken. I thought the chicken goes extremely well with a smatter of French mustard. For a carbo fix, there is always the potato gratin on the side.
We asked for a calamari and a creme caramel to share. The calamari (£5.95) was battered nicely with the right balance of salt and pepper. Juicy and fresh, it left me wanting more.
Creme caramel (£4.50) was a fitting end to the simple meal. Smooth and creamy, the caramel wasn't over the top - the lump in the throat feeling is the one thing that I abhor.
Cote Brasserie is known for its fuss free and affordable French cuisine and it didn't disappoint. The staff's service was all smiles and it is something that I can get used to. One more addition to the Angel's dining scene, I am already looking forward to the next year.
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4 days ago