Café Rouge

Best Part: The Building

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Café Rouge (or Red Coffee) has been a St Albans institution for longer than I have been. The beautiful glass structure half way up Holywell Hill is distinctive and enticing as you walk past. When you are inside it is even better, especially on sunny days, which today was (briefly). The rays glint of the glass roof and looking up you can see the clouds racing past.

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It seems almost a shame that such a wonderful space is filled with a chain restaurant, but Café Rouge make a pretty good stab at it. The bar at the back is beautifully high and mirrored, though I do worry about what happens when someone orders the particularly high up Pimms. It probably won’t be an issue for a few months now, anyway. The rest of the decorating is passable, non-glass surfaces are filled with art that I took to be non-objectionably until my wife objected to it. Our companion was a particularly lazy water colour.

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Café Rouge are boasting about their new Autumn menu so we decided to put them to the test. There was a Prix Fixe (or Repaired Prize) menu, which was reasonably good value, but we had come into possession of a 25% off voucher (and then subsequently a 30% off voucher which sadly could not be used in conjunction), and I am sure with the minimum of effort you could to. We therefore decided to venture onto the A La Carte (or On The Card) menu, which ended up a similar cost but gave us more choice. Ironically this stopped me ordering what I really wanted as it was also on the Prix Fixe and would have seemed like a waste.

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But let us ignore my irrational whims and focus on the food. Both of us showed enormous restraint and resisted the breaded camembert reasoning that it was readily available all over town. Instead I went for the Egg Meurette (or Oeuf Meer Cat), a delightful and hitherto unexperienced combination of a poached egg, some toast and a lovely gloopy mushroom and bacon sauce that complimented the chilly weather perfectly.

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La Dame De La Déjeuneren Milieu de Semaine went for the French Onion Soup (or French Onion Soup), with the teeny tiny little croutons and cheese. It used to be slices of standard sized French bread with melted gruyere on top. Now it is piddling little croutons with  small pot of raw grated cheese. It was rather confusing and messy. Presumably if you don’t like cheese you can ask for it to be omitted entirely. If you are expected to add it to the crouton yourself it might be prudent to go back to the large ones. As it was my wife had to perform a sort of circus act getting it all to balance on top. If it had been a tight rope walker, the cheese would have died but at least would have drowned gulping down some very delicious onion soup.

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For my main I went for Merguez, described as a spicy artisanal sausage but literally translating as ‘a bit like chorizo but thinner and juicier’. It was gorgeously flavoursome, and left a nice fatty paprika residue that I could sop up with my frites. These were thin and crisp as French fries should be, probably even superior to Cote’s offering. There was also a little saucepan filled some sort of thin gravy, but as this did not seem to add much to either the sausage or the chips I largely left it to it’s own devices.
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Ma Petite Femme had quiche, and remarked on its creamy, crumbly ricotta texture. Interestingly I don’t think it contained any ricotta but there was something about the way they had fused the egg and spinach that gave it this playful lightness. Mrs Midweek Lunch is no stranger to quiche and declares this was one of the best she had ever tasted, even compared to her own. Of course the French claim to have invented it so perhaps it would be.

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We have been coming to the Café Rouge for years, and will continue to come for years barring bankruptcy (on either side) or invasion from the French. The reason is that it offers quality but distinctive food in a beautiful and unique surroundings for a reasonable cost. So as the French say, de grandes choses viennent à une girafe tenace.

7.4/10

http://www.caferouge.com/locations/st-albans

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