Late nights, tempers frayed, nerves a-jangle – you can't imagine just how many times harmony has been restored in this office over an order of pizza from our local Strada. Sometimes it's the only thing that's brought us back from the brink.
So it's with delight that we welcome news of the former Strada management team setting out to work their magic on French food, with Côte, a new mid-market bistro that could roll out to a high street near you – or even better, near us.
The first Côte opened quietly last month in Wimbledon Village on the site of what was Marzano.
Its four directors, Chris Benians, Andy Bassadone, Marcus Cload and Nick Fiddler were all at Strada and Signature Restaurants.
Though it currently looks every inch the neighbourhood restaurant, don't forget the other key presence – that of its backer Richard Caring, he of the permatan, 177th position in the Sunday Times' Rich List and a tidy portfolio of glamorous restaurants and clubs, which includes The Ivy, Le Caprice and his recent purchase, Annabel's.
The story so far: Caring snapped up Strada from Luke Johnson in September 2005 for £60m, going on to sell the 55-strong group (50 Strada, 5 Belgo and Bierodrome)
in May this year to Tragus Holdings for a cool £140m. Though he sold Strada, he hung on to the team, which is where Benians, Bassadone et al come in with a launch – potentially a chain – that will be up against Tragus' faded high street stalwart, Café Rouge.
Côte is, in fact, nothing like your typical Franglais bistro, all zinc bar and peeling posters. In the bistro deluxe mould, it takes its design cues more from the likes of Racine or Galvin than Café René in 'Allo 'Allo!
That said, the Strada DNA is there in the complimentary filtered water in swing-top bottles, here delivered by chirpy staff clad in Oxford shirt, black trews and floor-length pinnies. Bevelled-edge mirrors, patterned tiles, marble surfaces and contemporary chairs that channel the spirit of the Thonet Bentwood give it a tasteful feel.
With Head Chef Martin Naydenov in the kitchen, the menu makes some changes from the traditional bistro (à l'Anglaise). Though there is Steak Frites, the steak is Scottish and ‘aged on the bone', with homemade frites and a selection of sauces, such as Roquefort Butter or Béarnaise. A weekend special of Steak Frites or Roast Landaise Chicken between noon and 6pm is a bargain £9.95.
French favourites on the à la carte, such as Pissaladière with Reblochon or Anchovy (£2.95) served on a wooden board, will be a huge seller; Hachis Parmentier (cottage pie) with Braised Peas and Lettuce (£9.95)
and Steak Haché (£8.95) are also sure-fire hits. Bread is sourdough with Lescure Butter. Booze is 99 per cent French, with choices like sparkling Vouvray, Breton Cider and house at £12.95. Average spend per head is a not too deluxe £20.
It's a confident, smart operation; so confident it even has the guts to list the Ivy/Caprice classic of Iced Berries with Hot White Chocolate Sauce – finished tableside. For £4.50.
What is the high street coming to?
Where? | Côte, 8 High Street, Wimbledon, SW19 5DX 020 8947 7100