I have now eaten at the new Côte Barbican, next to the Barbican’s new cinemas under Ben Jonson House, a couple of times since its opening in March and have been impressed each time – not only with the food and service, but especially with the price. You can truly enjoy a good meal there in reasonable surroundings at little more than half the price you would pay at many of the other more upmarket restaurants in the area. Indeed if one was frugally selective (half a grilled Breton chicken – despite the bird apparently coming all the way from Brittany – with fries at £9.95 for example, or moules frites main at £10.95, steak frites at the same price etc.) one could have an extremely reasonably priced meal. While many of our area restaurants are great for an occasional gourmet treat, Côte’s prices make it somewhere where one could consider going on perhaps a much more regular basis without breaking the bank.
Côte is a chain with branches all around the country and with 22 in the London area alone – including one close by St Pauls on Ludgate Hill, which may also be of interest to Barbican residents as being within reasonably close proximity, and the owners seem to have come up with a great formula for reasonably priced dining. All serve roughly the same basic menu, with changing daily specials. OK its not exactly what might be considered gourmet food nowadays – it perhaps lacks the fancy presentation (food as art) that most top restaurants see as de riguer and for which one pays through the nose to quickly demolish – but many of the dishes would pass muster as being very good at far more expensive establishments, while also offering items on the menu that perhaps a celebrity chef would turn his nose up at, but which the general public might very well appreciate as a slightly plainer, and lower cost, eating option (like the chargrilled half Breton chicken).
Pricing: The most expensive main courses on the quite comprehensive menu, barring the Côte’s steaks which come in at between £14.95 and £17.95 (still remarkably reasonable compared with most other restaurants in the area) cost only £13.95 (for grilled sea bass or roast duck breast) – although vegetables come as extras with most dishes which does add to the price a little. Starters range from £4.50 to £7.50, although one could easily replace a starter with an appetiser plate of excellent saucisson sec at £2.95, or their big offerings of fougasse (a garlic bread with parsley and sea salt) at £3.95 or pissaladière (warm flatbread with caramelised onion) and anchovy, olives and parsley for £3.35 or with reblochon cheese and thyme for £3.95 – both almost meals in themselves. Desserts are mostly around the £5 mark.
Côte Barbican also opens for breakfast with a seemingly good selection of English style or French offerings – full English at £7.50 (two eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, mushrooms and toast) for example, or a French style Breakfast Complet (Croissant, fruit salad, yoghurt at £5.25). Good coffee is between £1.95 (espresso) and £2.75 (cafetiere). This is served from 8 am to noon weekdays and from 9am to 1 pm at weekends.
There is a fairly comprehensive all-French wine list starting at £14.95 a bottle up to £68 for a Chateau d’Issan 2007 Margaux, but with many good offerings in the £20-30 range – again the kind of level that many of the supposedly classier restaurants would offer their cheapest house wine! Several of the wines are available by the glass at between £4.35 and £6.95 – would recommend the Côte de Gascogne sauvignon blanc at £5.25 – which makes choosing a different wine for each course if one wants a reasonable exercise.
As to personal dining experience one can only comment on a snapshot of what is available, but the starters and main courses I and my dining companions have had have been excellent. Breadcrumbed calamari sautéed in garlic lemon and parsley nicely tender – maybe slightly over salted, but very tasty nonetheless. An asparagus in hollandaise sauce daily special divine. Chicken liver parfait very good indeed as are the moules marinières and prawn gratinée starters. Dover sole main course special served on the bone was cooked to perfection. Pork belly melt in the mouth. The Breton chicken really moist and very tasty indeed. Excellent frites. Only complaint some rather mediocre green beans which look like they might have seen better days. We were pretty full so shared a dessert – iced berries with white chocolate sauce. Such an easy dish to prepare and delightful to consume!
The tables are a little small – however if you can secure one by the window there is a very wide almost table height window ledge which gives lots of extra space.
Overall Côte Barbican is an excellent addition to Barbican area restaurants – and so convenient! Will definitely be eating there again – there’s lots on the menu which looks really good and I haven’t tried yet!
Lawrence Williams – May 2013