I am lucky enough to have a friend who does the PR for Café Rouge, and this evening I was lucky enough to be invited to try some of their new spring menu. I have been to Café Rouge many times over the years; it’s a reliable staple, as far as I am concerned, doing nice, if somewhat straightforward interpretations of French food. Nothing too fancy, just hearty and simple, which is the best type, in my opinion.

But I was intrigued to hear about some of the new menu items, particularly the centerpiece: the 32oz Charolais cote de boeuf, made to share between two people (costing £45, so very good value), a mighty butterflied steak, served on the bone, and known as the somewhat intimidating-sounding ‘bull’s head.’ I took my best mate D, who is back working in London for a few months before his diplomatic role takes him off somewhere more exotic, and from the minute we walked in to the branch in Hays Galleria on a disgustingly wet spring evening, we were made to feel incredibly welcome, particularly by the Albanian restaurant manager, Fatmir (‘call me Fatty!’. I couldn’t. Not with a straight face, anyway).

On his recommendation, we shared a couple of starters: a dish of oven-baked potted snails with Roquefort butter, smoked lardons and lemon paprika crumble, and a Bouillabaisse. This last is normally a main, and consists of sea bream, mussels, king prawns and squid in a tomato and saffron broth with rouille and Gruyère, but I thought it would be a good thing for us both to try, and, being seafood, might be a bit of lighter note to kick off on.

The snails were delicious; we got three, each baked in a small individual terracotta pot. They had a good ‘give’, far from rubbery, and the buttery lemon crumble with the salted lardons made for a tasty contrast. The Bouillabaisse was not quite up there with the version I have had in Marseille, but it was piquant nonetheless; the fish and seafood were cooked perfectly, falling apart in flakes, although my one quibble would be that the Gruyere had been pre-grated and was somewhat dry when sprinkled on, though it soon went delightfully gooey when it came into contact with the tomato-ey soup base.

Much space was cleared in anticipation of the next course, and a stand was placed between us, ready to receive the platter of flesh. You get two sides and two sauces with the dish; we chose Roquefort, which was intense and cheesy, and beef dripping Merlot gravy, which was dark, red-winey, and incredibly moreish, but a little went a long way. The restaurant recommends the meat is served medium, but I am half French, and I can only eat steak if it’s still almost mooing, so medium rare was the compromise.

It was huge, with two bones sticking out of either side, and a beautiful criss crossing from where it had sizzled on the grill. It was tender, our knives sliding through it like butter, incredibly flavoursome, with a smokey aroma, and downright delicious all round. With a massive slab of Dauphinoise potatoes and some green beans, it formed a classic French feast. I have to say that it defeated us, and we simply couldn’t finish it (though they kindly let us have the leftovers to take home). But that may have been because, ahem, we’d also elected to try the confit of duck, which is sourced from French suppliers and just fell of the bone, ready to dip into the accompanying cherry sauce (you could also have orange if you preferred). Fatmir also recommended a really good red wine, a Larose de Gruaud Saint-Julien, which worked very well with the mains.

The interior is very appealing too; Fatmir told us that this part of the Thames used to be where ships docked, delivering tea from far-flung lands, so the décor includes lots of vintage teapots and paraphernalia. The lighting is attractively low, and the cream, red and mirrored panels make it all feel very cosy.

All in all, a lovely visit, and I’ll definitely be going back soon.

Food: 8/10

Value for money: 7.5/10

Atmosphere: 8/10