Review: Three Coqs Brasserie, Bristol

Three Coqs Brasserie

Let me say from the start that we really wanted to like this place. The Three Coqs Brasserie has plenty of pedigree with chefs from Bell’s Diner in Montpelier, a great location and an unusual concept of brasserie style tapas dishes combined with natural and biodynamic wines. We arrived a little early and sat in the bar area with a glass of wine whilst our table was set, over by the window.

The decor is a marked change from the previous Asian restaurant, Budokan. Gone are the long canteen benches and in place are scandinavian style wooden tables and chairs, out with the solid wood floor, in with a carpet which makes it significantly quieter than its predecessor. But what they’d done to the air conditioning is anyone’s guess — when the staff complain to the customers, you know it’s hot!

I’ll consider the wine list, rightly claimed to be a Bristol first comprising as it does solely of natural and biodynamic wines. Like me, you’ll be reaching for wikipedia right now to try and understand what this actually means unless you’re already in the buying habit. Natural wines then are those that are made with “as little chemical and technological intervention as possible”. That, frankly, is the kind of weak pseudo-science that makes my skin creep as I’m quite sure that the very best of vineyards, from France to Australia also apply this thinking. However, the drinking is the real test and our Vouvray La Dilettante 2008 Breton Loire was lovely, if a little warm, but the staff were quick to offer up an ice bucket to remedy the situation.

It was in the pouring of the wine that our first odd moment of the evening occurred. Our waitress congratulated us on our choice of wine (thank you — too kind) and then stated that they had tried a few of the wines on the menu but they’d yet to try some of the more expensive ones such as this. In the pause between customer and staff was an unsaid desire to try the wine and a missing invitation to pull up a chair. With such a small wine list, it really wouldn’t cost much to invite all staff to taste every wine on the menu.

Sat at our window seat, ice bucket on an adjacent table, menus in hand, an excellent waitress arrived to help us through the menu. On her advice, we opted to choose 7 small dishes (3 each, with a side dauphinoise potato) rather than a traditional starter and main. This perfectly suited us; we were struggling to choose from the options and the suite of small plates gave us plenty of opportunity to taste the Three Coqs style.

We chose the following: Baked duck egg, blue cheese and walnuts; Black bream, sautéed potatoes, lemon & parsley; Rabbit leg, bacon, rosemary, sautéed potatoes & creamed spinach; Deep fried whitebait and tartar; Asparagus with hollandaise and finally a warm salad of slow roast pork shoulder, fennel, hot and sweet paprika, garlic & sherry.

A hearty raised glass to the successes! The black bream was superb. Beautifully crispy, salty skin with perfect white flesh and the potatoes were just excellent. So too the rabbit — a French one-pot style casserole with perfectly cooked rabbit and bacon lardons. We could easily have had more of both of these.

A disappointing ‘thumbs down’ to the other dishes but in the spirit of trying to be constructive, some pointers for the future maybe. The asparagus and hollandaise was perfect in every way but one! Well cooked asparagus and creamy sharp hollandaise but really, just four spears of asparagus for £4 is just not good enough. This is the height of asparagus season, customers will know they can buy a bundle for a few pounds and this just seemed a profiteering plate of food. And we weren’t the only ones to notice; the adjacent table were unlucky enough get a three-spear serving and were equally surprised. Our excellent waitress noted that ‘good asparagus was expensive’ when we commented on it. I won’t disagree, but ours and others perception was of a dish that should have had more.

In stark contrast was the whitebait. Again, this was a very well cooked dish — the fish was excellent as was the tartare sauce, but portion control was ridiculous. It was at least twice the size it needed to be. We were both soundly beaten some 150 heads into the dish!

The slow cooked pork salad was nice enough but a little disappointing. It seemed to lack the promised kick of paprika, whilst the sweet paprika and sherry just took over. Very far from unpleasant, but I felt it needed something sharp to cut the sweetness. Maybe pickle that fennel?

And the baked duck egg was a dish I wanted to love but couldn’t. It tasted exactly as presented. Runny duck egg with melted blue cheese and crunchy walnuts on top. I can’t offer a suggestion to improve it but having tasted, I’m in no rush to order another.

In wonderful contrast, desserts were excellent. We opted for the assorted cheeses followed by the lemon tart. Four cheeses were presented: A brie, a hard, a blue and a goat and our server volunteered that they should be eaten in that order. That’s somewhat peculiar given the flavour of most blues, but she was quite right and boy was the goat’s cheese good! Sadly, our server did not know the names of any of the cheeses and had to refer to the menu for us. It’s not hard to remember four cheese names and I think a walk and talk through the cheeses on offer is to be expected.

The lemon tart was just sublime. The pastry was the best I’ve tasted in a long time, the lemon filling reached that perfect point between sweet and sharp and was baked to give the thinnest brulee layer. If you go, order this. I’m fearful of ordering another in any other restaurant as I fear the disappointment of comparison with Saturday night’s offering.

Finally a thought about the serving staff. Something was not right here. During our meal, we were twice offered dishes intended for other tables and once invited to place a dessert order having done so not minutes before with another member of staff. The lack of knowledge about the cheeses, the uncomfortable wine incident all lead to a feeling that the staff were not fully up to speed. Teething trouble if I’m being generous but if they’re not addressed, they’ll become reasons not to visit.

We really wanted to love this place. We really wanted to have discovered another gem of a Bristol restaurant. In truth, we almost have save for a few tweaks front of house and in the kitchen. I will revisit one day but I fear it won’t be as soon as I’d originally hoped.

If you go, let me know — and let them know too at @3coqs