Love is all you need

January 25, 2010

 It seems the remaining unit in the Highcross restauarant quarter is to be Cafe Rouge. Well whoop de do.

I should say first I’ve never eaten at one of these restaurants, maybe given the right manager and staff they can be ok, but the description I’ve seen attributed to Jonathan Meades of  “the Middle Class McDonalds” seems appropriate. I’ve read enough reviews of incompetent food and miserable service from untrained, underpaid, misersable staff to find the artless attempt at tuning into francophilia really grating.

Cafe Rouge is a brand  owned by Tragus Holdings, whom we can also thank for Bella Italia.  Tragus itself is owned by Blackstone, a £67 billion  private equity fund. You don’t want to further enrich these people do you?  Try instead the small East Midlands chain Bistrot Pierre. It  might riff on the French cafe in a similar way but it’s relatively locally owned, the food by most standards is perfectly adequate at least and I know they invest in the skills of their staff, especially in the kitchen. The prices are also much friendlier than Cafe Rouge.  

bistot pierre

I can’t see that we need another clone operation in Leicester.  Highcross developers Hammerson have brought a lot of investment into the city but what a shame they haven’t done more to encourage a mix of independents as well as chains.  

Restaurants need to believe in what they are doing from the top to bottom. They need to love it, or else we’ll soon find them out. To end, here’s  Giles Coren writing in the Independent over a decade ago: “Love is all you need. Look at Cafe Rouge. What makes eating there so miserable? Hard to say. The menus appear well- balanced. Occasionally there is a waiter who speaks English and knows what a potato is. But order a breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs – the simplest dish in the world – and you get big lumps of dry, unseasoned egg, slashes of fish-rind and cold toast. No love.”

Snobbery? Or simply a stand in defence of quality? Interested to hear from anyone of their experiences of Cafe Rouge.


6 Responses to “Love is all you need”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Leics Digital Media, One Leicester. One Leicester said: Cafe Rouge coming to the Highcross Quarter #Leicester […]


  2. Jessica said

    I’ve eaten at the Hampstead Cafe Rouge: it was fairly uninspiring in terms of choice and service was nothing special. It was very busy though, to the point of turning people away, so what that says about local tastes and/or competition I will leave you to judge!
    I wouldn’t be in a rush to return, although curiosity might lead me to the High Cross branch for lunch…


  3. Kirstie said

    I disagree with the comments about Cafe Rouge. I’ve eaten at several where the food has been far better than most other attempts at French food served in this country. Ok, it’s a chain which is disheartening and some of staff have been very busy and therefore inattentive but on the whole, I would definitely go back and recommend others to try Cafe Rouge.

    I would suggest you try it before jumping on the bandwagon that all restaurant chains are of poor quality. Staff need to be paid better before they offer a great service and unfortunately this seems to be something that is lacking in the majority of restaurants in this country, chain or not.


    • riponia said

      Thanks Kirstie – I’m aware I probably came across as dismissive and I did point out that my views were largely based on second hand reports. I certainly agree that waiting staff are undervalued and undertrained and that this can explain their lack of interest. I have good experiences with chain restaurants and I admit my prejudice against Cafe Rouge is just that – prejudice. So thanks again for you comments – I will give it a try.


  4. Jessica & Mike said

    I’m afraid your worst fears about Cafe Rouge are confirmed: we had a terrible lunch there today…
    It was quite busy, but we welcomed warmly and told that the rush had passed and there was no wait for food. We both ordered from the set menu options- 2 courses for £10.95 I think.
    Mike’s starter was Camembert with jambon cru- so a slice of French bread with Camembert and tomato wrapped in ham- which he said was a little bland. I had potato, spinach and something soup with was so over-salted I couldn’t finish it. It was served with the kind of French bread you can buy in Tesco to ‘cook at home’.
    For mains Mike had steak hache which he described as ‘meh’. It came with fries and grilled tomato. I had salmon fishcakes, served with salad garnish and fries and it was awful. The fries were just like the ones from McDonalds, the salad had been put under the hotplate and was warm, wilted, and decidedly unappealing, and the fish cakes, although tasty inside, were covered in thick fried breadcrumbs which rather killed the flavour. I ate one fishcake and a few fries and when the waitress cleared my full plate she did not think to ask whether something was wrong with the meal. Neither were we asked at any point whether we had enjoyed it.
    The final straw was when the waitress who came to take payment then asked if were going shopping, and if I was going to spend all Mike’s money!
    So no, I wouldn’t go back, and no, I wouldn’t recommend it!


  5. riponia said

    That’s a shame – the “no love” diagnosis sounds about right, then.


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