The traditional foodie disdain for the nation’s chain restaurants is coming to be shared by the wider public, to judge by the dismal trading performance of some of them – including Jamie’s Italian, Prezzo and Cafe Rouge – over the past year or so.

Bucking the trend meanwhile has been Côte, whose French-themed brasseries – more than 90 of them across the country – offer robust, flavoursome and properly Gallic dishes that are hard to fault.

Rosemarie and I first sampled them on consecutive nights at the branch in Cardiff Bay after Welsh National Opera performances at the Wales Millennium Centre opposite.

Soon after, in November 2011, an Oxford branch opened in the George Street premises where Brasserie Chez Gerard, a doomed ‘French’ operation of lesser note, formerly functioned.

I reviewed Côte favourably within weeks, and have often returned, always delighted by what I find. This included for a long time free glasses of kir royale supplied on production of an Oxford Playhouse ticket, of which I always had plenty.

Recently, I have eaten there twice, the visits bookending a week-long flurry of feasting at the best of Oxford’s private operations, including Quod, No 1 Ship Street and Oli’s Thai. A comparison with them proved far from odious.

The first saw Rosemarie and me enjoying Sunday lunch there in the honoured company – this was Mother’s Day – of Olive, 95 not out (though she often is).

Kir royale was again the starting point as we took our seats at our favourite circular marble table just inside the front (for which read only) door. I had requested this in my online booking and was pleased to find we were accommodated.

The fizz came as part of the day’s special menu, generously priced – Côte sets are always excellent value – at £19.95 for two courses and £24.95 for three.

Though tempted by both the puff pastry with ratatouille and the warm roquefort salad, I began instead with a generous portion of breadcrumbed calamari. This was beautifully tender, sautéed with garlic and parsley, and served in a skillet with a wedge of lemon and a pot of excellent tartare sauce.

Both Rosemarie and her mother enjoyed the pork and chicken liver terrine, with toasted country bread – I’ll spare you the French – and spiced apple chutney.

Main courses included seabass fillet with braised fennel and herb-roasted chicken breast wrapped in bacon, with a veggie option of spinach and mushroom crepes.

Knowing Cote to be reliable for its steaks, though, I opted for the seven-ounce fillet (£5 supplement) and encouraged Olive to join me. This was knock-out meat, teamed with mushroom sauce and celeriac purée. For Rosemarie there was roasted duck breast with gratin potato and cherry sauce.

While my companions made short work of apple and blackberry crumble, and a mirabelle and almond tart, I went off the menu to finish this delightful lunch with £6.75’s worth of perfect cheese (Roquefort, Reblochon and Comté).

Our Thursday dinner was just as good, despite exile from our favourite table. We arrived to find it occupied by old friends of ours celebrating their birthdays (yes plural; the date’s the same). We were happy by the window, though, from where we raised glasses in their direction – kir royales naturally! – as we studied the menu.

We’re à la carte tonight and commencing in my case with prawn gratinée, six whoppers, shell-on, in a piquant sauce of garlic chilli and tomatoes, with garlic and parsley croutons.

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Rosemarie had crab mayonnaise, enlivened with capers, tarragon, cucumber and avocado, and served with toasted sourdough. The peachy viognier (IGP Pays D’Oc, a vegan variety) was a fine accompaniment.

I necessarily switched to Côtes du Rhône (Cuvée Laudin, 2017) for the lamb rump – an April special – that followed. This superb piece of meat was served with chive potato purée, courgettes, tomatoes, peas and broad beans. Spring delight!

Rosemarie’s roasted pork belly with gratin potato, apples, thyme and calvados seemed more a taste of autumn, but was greatly enjoyed.

So was her perfect apple tart. I had cheese again, believing you can’t have too much of a good thing.

  • Cote is in George Street, Oxford