I don’t know what they do to new recruits in some upmarket chain restaurants. Visit a place in the first couple of weeks of opening and the staff are often surprisingly pumped with enthusiasm.
I imagine US-style training days where they’re all high-fiving each other, doing star jumps, taking vitamin injections, listening to Billy Graham-style pep talks, being wired directly to the mains, and imbibing some sort of happy serum. Go team.
At the first Scottish branch of Côte in Glasgow (expect an Edinburgh one sometime next March), the front of house is currently ebullient. In fact, at our dinner in this dark cave of a French-style bistro, with tea lights on tables, they asked us a total of six times if we were enjoying our meal.
Our waiter was so jolly that it seems a bit mean to say we were upsold.
“Nibbles while you’re waiting?” he’d asked. “YES,” we’d said in unison, wanting so much to please him, then I ordered a glass of kir royale (£4.25) by accident, and it’s not even Christmas.
We ended up sharing the pissaladiere (£4.40) – a thin and crispy edged flatbread topped with a sweet and herby paste of tomato and caramelised onion, with layered rectangles of melted reblochon.
“How’s your bread?” he asked, as we tore strips off the plank of bread. “Good, thanks.”
Our proper starters included tomates Breton (£5.95), which featured room-temperature quartered sweet tomatoes of various sizes and hues with finely chopped shallots and minuscule capers, plus two slices of griddled sourdough with a pungent smoky tinge. One of these was topped with a puffy white paste of very mild goats cheese, which was drizzled with sunlight-coloured olive oil and laced with chives.
There was more toasted sourdough with the crab mayonnaise (£7.25) – a large patty of breezily fresh mashed crab containing fine nibs of cucumber, avocado and tarragon, all dusted with cayenne pepper.
“Starters OK for you?” someone who wasn’t our original waiter asked. “Yes thanks.”
My main of grilled lamb loin chops (£13.95) consisted of two medium rare (cooked to order, which is nice) fist-size pieces of plump meat, with a large pat of dissolving Roquefort butter on the top. Proper treat food – don’t spare the calories, Chef. It came with plenty of gravy and a pleasant mint-infused “salad” of peas, chopped shallots and croutons.
And, of course, you’ve got to order a side, because carbs don’t grow on trees. Frites are £2.95, and come skinny and well seasoned, in a greaseproof-paper-lined zinc pail.
“How’s that main working out for you?” said a member of staff. “Great, thanks.”
Our other choice was the duck confit (£12.50) from the Specials Menu. It was a good quacker leg – soft and flaky, with a bronzed skin and a helping of chopped savoy cabbage, loads of lardons and a rich thyme and veal jus. We needed frites too, au naturellement.
“You enjoying that?” said our original waiter. “Yep.”
My pudding of frozen berries with white chocolate sauce (£4.50) was a trial. Unless you have undergone a dental anaesthetic or are immune to brain freeze, it’s quite hard to negotiate icy bullets of blackberry, raspberry, blackcurrant and redcurrant.
“Good dessert?” someone asked. “Unng, mmhhmm”. I just drank the white chocolate sauce instead. Don’t judge.
We also had a very decent cocoa-dusted chocolate mousse (£4.60). “How are you finding dessert?” “Yep, fine.”
This place is a smooth operation – all that food and the matching pleasantries, and we were back out on West Nile Street after 90 minutes with our egos all plump and massaged, even if all the questioning does get slightly annoying after a while. As much as I’m loathe to big up a chain, this one is easy to love. “Have a wonderful evening,” said someone, as the door swung shut behind us.