i love a chain restaurant, me, yet the one that seems to have escaped a visit from me is everyone's favourite french bistro: cafe rouge. having heard nothing but wonderful reviews about the chain's fresh mussels and baked cheeses, and with the ink on the autumn menu still slightly wet, i decided it was high time to change all that. and with mum mere days away from leaving london, it seemed like the perfect place to bid her bon voyage from - seeing as she's actually heading home via paris.
with two large glasses of wine in hand, we perused the food menus. we decided against the prix fixe set menu - despite its excellent value for money (two courses for £12.95 - magnifique!), choosing to pick from the range of new autumn dishes instead. i'd literally said to mum days earlier that whenever i see croquettes on the menu i have to have them, so i chose the croquettes de legumes with a petit pois, broad bean and herb filling and a creme fraich aioli dipping sauce, while she opted for the twice-baked brie souffle topped with toasted hazelnuts, and apple and pear chutney.
and i couldn't tell you which was tastier, because they both had such different and incredible flavours about them. the pea and mint mixture was so fresh and flavourful, and the outer crumb was crisped to perfection. then again, the sweetness of the toasted nuts and fruit chutney cut right through the creamy, salty cheese and left us wanting more, more, more.
then came the mains. i have a rule about only eating red meat when it's in a specialist restaurant (as in, not an angus steakhouse, but something of that ilk). or, when there's a 12oz rib eye on the bone on the autumn menu of your local french bistro, it seems, because i went for the steak. a giant, perfectly cooked, bit of meat that was cooked in garlic butter and served with thin, crunchy frittes, and a creamy peppercorn sauce. i devoured that bit of meat in record time - possibly even before mum had finished her duck. i was ravenous for that bit of meat.
the duck: i'm not a fan, personally. i find it not to my taste at all, and very rich. am i weird, or is that a thing? anyway, mum ordered the duck confit with cherry sauce, dauphinoise potatoes and green beans, and you should have heard the noises that were coming out of her mouth. like, she claims to not be a big eater, but i've seen her absolutely smash some meals these last few months. like an entire plate of dauphinoise potatoes, despite the fact she "doesn't eat potatoes". maniac. i tasted them: they were sensational.
and then there was dessert. naturally, i ordered the creme brulee, because what else does one order in a french bistro? mum, foolishly, ordered the rum baba. but that's ok, becuase she really enjoyed it. i've never had a rum baba, but i don't like rum, so i'm happy to keep it that way. again, she devoured it, so i think it's fairly safe to assume that it was pretty tasty, because my mum is a fussy dessert eater. she likes her coffee flavours good and strong, and her rum babas good and rummy. the creme brulee was, if i'm honest, not spectacular. which is just as well really because i was full to the brim and barely had enough room to fit in the rest of my wine, let alone pointless, creamy calories.
basically, what i'm saying is this: i am really, pleasantly surprised. the staff were lovely and able to offer suggestions (and were even french, unless they really play up to their parts in this circus we call life) for all courses (and wines; important), and were very helpful in getting us to our many train stations and bus stops at the end of the meal. for what it's worth, i will definitely be back - might even try the fixed menu next time, because i do love me some good value dining.
have you been to cafe rouge recently?
*our meals were complimentary, but all words are my own*