People of Salisbury who knew you'd be having such a good time on a random Wednesday lunchtime? Chugging back wine, ordering steak frites, forking up creamy risotto without, it would seem, a care in the world. If more evidence were needed that we are finally nosing out of recession, then here it was in an unexpectedly bustling French brasserie.
Why did no one tell me about Cote? It's been packing in its genteel fanbase for almost a year, housed in the former premises of a grand but faded tea-house. One of a chain of robust French bistros, Cote is just what this town needed. Tired of Wagamama's? Beyond bored of Pizza Express? I very much doubt you'll be going there again. Cote is instantly appealing with its modern brasserie feel - dark grey walls, wooden floors, mirrors, chandeliers, white table cloths, you know the kind of thing. The waiters are traditionally clad in long white aprons and seem universally charming. A stone carafe of water arrives without me asking for it. Instantly, then, a difference from the Salisbury chains we are used to.
I'm first to arrive and have a chance to look around at the other packed tables. Silver surfers relishing retirement with large glasses of wine, specs on, perusing the menu, girlfriends chatting in that ferocious, just-arrived way, besuited workers, maybe, though they almost seem to be having too nice a time. Laid-back, bistro-like, that's what this is but with service that feels like it's been through a recession and come up with a new, charm school speakeasy. A bit like time travelling to 30 years ago. 'Why is it so packed?' I ask my lawyer friend when he arrives a few minutes later. 'Because it's great,' he says, 'and also because people are nuts for the £9.95 two course menu.' Which is what we had. Ratatouille with grilled goat's cheese to start (delicious), then a wild mushroom risotto and seared sea bass with savoy cabbage and a beurre blanc.
My feeling from this first visit is that they don't stint on the quality of the ingredients, they definitely don't stint on service and that, actually, it's that slightly reinvented but essentially old school food that pleases most palettes. So roast chicken with frites and garlic butter, moules mariniere, salmon fishcakes with spinach, salad nicoise with fresh grilled tuna. Nothing disappoints and it so easily could. A couple of double espressos, a bottle of Badoit and, I'm not sure what the damage was, but I'd say easily under 50 quid. Astonishingly good value for what was a pretty wonderful lunch on a random weekday. So yes I'll be back, for steak frites, for calamari, for asparagus risotto. Next time I might even copy the pensioners and throw in a glass of golden looking wine. We have a classic new multi-tasking brasserie in our midst and it would be crazy not to take advantage of it.