Cafe Rouge

September 3, 2010

I took some criticism for a less than enthusiastic welcome to Cafe Rouge in Leicester’s Highcross.  I did stress at the time my views were based on prejudice born from the scorn of the big beast food critics and my own distaste for it’s over the top, theme park Frenchification. I’ve been urged to give it a try and I finally got along for a quick lunch this week.  And the verdict – well maybe not as bad I feared but nothing to get excited about.  

Working in its favour, and I’m not really giving credit to owners Tragus for this, was a beautiful late summer day and a chance to catch up with an old friend.  Sitting outside in the traffic free enviornment of Highcross was really very pleasant.    Foodwise my “terrine maison” was nice and smooth but a bit grey around the gills and was light on flavour,  though the caramelised roscoff onion chutney was very palatable to a sweet tooth like mine.  My main of salade de Toulouse  was nearly there.  The Toulouse sausages were great – coarse, garlicky and smoky, they were chopped up in a bowl of potatoes, more nicely caramelised onions and some good  perppery leaves. The main problem was the leaves were massively overdressed and were wilting in a puddle of oil at the bottom of the plate.  Judy had the confit leg of duck with a plum sauce, french beans and a gratin dauphinoise – which wasn’t too bad at all. The duck had been preserved and crisped up well, the plum sauce  had flavour  – and real plums – and the gratin was a decent effort, being rich with a nutmeggy crust but underneath the potatoes were somewhat underdone.   Our waiter was competent but the whole experience would have been enhanced with a smile and some warmth.

So it was ok but I’m not exactly won over by the place – I still find that corporate vibe offputting.  I’d be prepared to go again for a more extensive tasting, but it won’t be  top of my list.

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A Sushi Skeptic

April 21, 2010

A quick supper last night at Yo! Sushi before seeing a talk from  Jon Ronson courtesy of Leicester Skeptics in the Pub.   Kind of wish I’d not bothered – with the sushi that is, Jon Ronson was simply wonderful.   I didn’t expect transcendence from a sushi bar in Highcross, but I was shocked that the salmon in a dragon roll managed to be 100 per cent tasteless.  Chicken kutsu was unremarkable too, small pieces of  crumbed chicken wrapped in sushi rice with a spicy but somewhat gloopy sauce sploshed on top. Best dish was simple aubergine slices, possibly because I was able to whip it off the converyor belt the moment it went on. These were tender and tasty – plenty of umami here.  Quick and convenient certainly,  but I left  feeling I could have done rather better elsewhere.

As a footnote, I see that Cafe Rouge in Highcross has now opened  and at 6.45pm on a Tuesday was doing good business.  Still think its faux-francais look is more than slightly ludicrous in what is a glorified shopping precinct but am trying to keep an open mind.

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.

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