They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, not to have pre-conceived ideas about what something is going to be like, regardless of how hard you try to keep an open mind – and new restaurants are no exception.
With this in mind, although I wanted to try Entrecôte Café de Paris, the latest restaurant to open at Mermaid Quay, I wasn’t hugely excited about doing so. I was a big fan of its predecessor, Garçon!, which offered pretty authentic French fare, and was really disappointed when it closed. With Entrecôte being the latest addition to the BA Brandings group, who are responsible for Signor Valentino (an Italian restaurant upstairs at Mermaid Quay), Bellinis (a local ‘chain’ of Italians, one of which is right next to Signor Valentino) and Bayside Brasserie (also upstairs at Mermaid Quay, and the subject of a recent review), I wasn’t sure if it would be quite the same.
With this in mind, I imagined Entrecôte would probably be to French food what Bellinis is to Italian: fairly standard fare, done well, but undoubtedly catering for the mass consumer market, along with the usual High Street suspects such as ASK, Zizzi’s and the like. I think I was expecting something along the lines of Café Rouge. I was wrong.
We tried to book a table for last Saturday night, but were told it was fully booked. Undeterred, we headed to the Bay anyway, and while I went to get some pre-dinner drinks in, Mr W wandered upstairs to work his magic, and sure enough we had our name down for a table at 9 p.m. – happy days.
As soon as we walked in, I was impressed. Fresh bread and lovely French cheeses adorned the long counter, and the décor, which was reminiscent of a Parisien bistro but with a bit more glamour and a hint of art deco, made it feel instantly special. Likewise, the menus, brought to us in heavy leather folders (rather than the laminated card I was expecting) had huge promise, and when we opened them, they didn’t disappoint!
There’s currently an introductory offer of a Table d’Hôte menu at £17.50 for an entrée and a main, which was quite tempting, particularly as one of the main courses was a cheese platter, served with bread and a sauternes sauce. I’ve never seen cheese served as a main before, so this certainly sounded good. Even more temptation awaited us on the a la carte, and Entrecôte even offers a selection of caviar, if that’s your thing (it’s not mine!)
We were seriously impressed by the thought and detail that seemed to have gone into the menu, and the authenticity of many of the dishes on offer, and said as much to our waiter – I also added that I’d been expecting another version of Café Rouge, and he explained that BA Brandings is now aiming for flagship venues. This one is the first restaurant in Cardiff to offer conferencing facilities – I had a sneaky look at these when I went to the toilet, and was, once again, very impressed as they were stylish, sparkling and definitely a pleasant change from the usual hotel conference and meeting facilities. Similarly, there was a stunning private dining room, which I’d love to use for a special occasion.
I enquired further about the menu, because clearly it had been developed by a chef who knew what he was talking about, and our waiter told us that the consultant chef involved was none other than Grady Atkins, formerly of Le Gallois, and more recently (and briefly) of Park House Club and Laguna at the Park Plaza. An impressive name to have on board – but, oddly, his name doesn’t feature on the menu or the website, and even a Google search for “Grady Atkins Entrecôte” draws a blank – I’m not sure what to make of that, as I would have thought that having his name behind the new venture would give it even more gravitas, so it’s all very intriguing. Either way, it’s certainly resulted in an interesting menu, which I’ll now go back to!
A selection of Amuse Bouche options was on the menu, including oysters, but although we passed, we were served an amuse bouche anyway – a salmon cake with tangy lemon peel on the top, which was a lovely indication of things to come!
For our meal, after much deliberation (and much chatting with our waiter!) we decided to choose from the a la carte, and I started with Jambon Persille – a ham terrine, served with a slow poached Burford egg and frisee salad. The ham terrine was exceptionally good – chunky ham, a firm texture and the right amount of seasoning. The egg looked equally excellent when I broke into it, but I had a bit of a shock when it was cold! Not just tepid – as in it had hung around a bit too long – but stone cold! It still had a lovely rich flavour and an enormous bright yellow glossy, runny yolk, almost reminiscent of a duck’s egg, but I would have much preferred it to be warm, as it just seemed a bit wrong.
Mr W chose fresh grilled sardines, served with pistou and lemon confit. I’m not a great lover of sardines, but he proclaimed them to be excellent. I did try a mouthful, more to sample the accompaniments than the fish, and the flavour combination certainly worked well. The presentation was lovely too.
I’d struggled with a choice from the main course selection – they all sounded good, but nothing leapt out at me, so instead I asked if I could have moules marinières from the entrees menu with a side order of frites. This was no problem. The moules were in an authentic marinière sauce, featuring wine and garlic, but no cream (as is often added but isn’t actually an ingredient in the authentic recipe) with finely chopped carrots and celery. The sauce was full of flavour, and the way the moules were cooked was spot on. I enjoyed the frites too. Ordinarily I prefer thicker chips, but these were pretty good, and stayed nice and hot.
Mr W chose pan fried breast of chicken, which was served with potatoes, peas and a light jus. Oddly, it also came with a sauce choron (a Bearnaise with added tomato) which was admittedly delicious and came in handy for dipping my frites, but seemed totally superfluous with the chicken dish. Other than that, though, the dish was well-executed.
To finish, we shared a dessert of seasonal fruit tatin. The seasonal fruit was apple, which suited me as I love a traditional tarte tatin. What we had was less like this, however, and more like a tarte aux pommes – the fruit was sliced more finely, and there was less runny caramel (although still a nice rich caramel flavour). It was still a really good dessert, though, served with some vanilla ice cream to temper the sweet caramel.
Believe it or not, the best was yet to come! Mr W ordered a coffee, and it came with a chocolate macaron! Now, I love macarons, but the cost (and calorie content!) tends to put me off having them too often, so to be given one with a coffee in a Cardiff restaurant is a real treat! The waiter must have seen my eyes light up when I saw the one that he served Mr W, as shortly after that, two more arrived at our table. Can’t complain about that!
We had a great evening at Entrecôte, and really felt as if we were eating somewhere pretty special. The food was very good indeed, and the menu is excellent and will certainly tempt me back (if the macarons don’t do that job!) The service was good as well – although I kept feeling as if I should be served by someone French (perhaps a sign of how authentic I found the food!), and I don’t think any of the staff we met were. One thing I’d definitely change, however, was the music. Someone had obviously purchased “The Best Accordion Album in the World” or similar, under the mistaken impression that constant accordion music somehow makes a place more authentically French. Unfortunately, it just made me feel like I was in an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo. “Good moaning.”
Accordions aside, I’d highly recommend that you try Entrecôte if you like good quality French food. I’ve not managed to find out any more about the Grady Atkins connection, but it will be interesting to see whether, at some point in the future, he does have more involvement, or puts his name to the menu. I’m also really intrigued by the conferencing facilities and am hoping that I get an opportunity to try these out at some stage in the future too!
Food: **** Service: **** Ambience: ****
Entrecôte Café de Paris, Upper Unit 9, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay CF10 5BZ