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Cafe Rouge review

Jonathan Schofield finds it sole destroying at the pseudo-Gallic chain

Written by . Published on April 15th 2010.

Cafe Rouge review

What is the point of Cafe Rouge? Why is it the most annoying chain out there? For me at least.

True it employs people which is good, and it fills up units – 114 of them nationwide – but what's it all for?

The depths were truly plumbed by the meringue we shared which tasted and looked like polystyrene packaging. The sickly strawberry goo complemented it like a bloody corpse does a rich Floridean apartment in CSI Miami. The meringue was clearly not made anywhere the kitchen.

It's the theming that gets to you first. Cafe Rouge tries so very hard, it screws up its bijou eyes and bunches up its petit fists and says 'we're French, we're French, yes we are, yes we are.” But despite lots of French bric-a-brac and lots of French words scattered around the restaurants they only ever get as far as Disneyland Paris. The restaurants don't feel quite right.

Maybe a better analogy would be with those carvings of elephants you see in medieval churches. The artists who carved these had only ever been told what the animals looked like, they'd never actually seen them, so you get elephants with horses hooves and the wrong sized trunks.

Of course Cafe Rouge's management will have been to France, yet somehow those trips have left them as lost as the ancient craftsmen. Whatever they're trying to do is lost in translation, Cafe Rouge never seems to capture any Gallic magic.

So why was I reviewing the Cafe Rouge in Spinningfields? I blame Gordo – my colleague reviewer on Confidential. He keeps going on about how he's sick of all the Italian places opening in Manchester and would love something that was very genuine in the French bistro and brasserie stakes. I agree with him. When did we last have in the city centre a pot-au-feu making, mid-priced, French beauty, cooking regional foods with a bit of flare? London seems to have loads of them.

So maybe Cafe Rouge is filling the gap for us provincials and we really don't need a French-run independent? It was time to test out the chain.

Stuff in a bowl

So let's start with a compliment. On the two visits I made, the staff were friendly and eager to serve. After that it was all down hill.

The menu is as migraine inducing as all the bric-a-brac. It flies all over the place, broken down into so many sections you get dizzy reading it. It hedges its bets so much between light meals for ladies who lunch, kids meals, heavy meals, it becomes a blur.

We went for the lemon sole (£13.50), the Legume Breton (£10.25) and followed this up with a strawberry meringue (£4.95). We didn't have the heart to try more as none of it was much good.

The sole was best, cooked a shade too long, but otherwise perfectly edible. The singed courgettes and the hard spuds that came with the fish looked frightened. Pathetic tasteless things they hid in their bowl for shame. The vegetable potage my dining partner half-consumed was a flesh-free variant of the classic Poulet Breton, but was as blurred as the menu. It was a stodge pot of watery, soggy veg, with a stock which lacked any sort of edge. What about some seasoning folks, what about some care with timings?

It's Paris... reallySole and some dead things in a dish

The depths were truly plumbed by the meringue we shared which tasted and looked like polystyrene packaging. The sickly strawberry goo complemented it like a bloody corpse does a rich Floridean apartment in CSI Miami. The meringue was clearly not made anywhere the kitchen, or maybe even Manchester.

A bottle of Viognier at the huge price of £33 was the only passable element of the whole occasion, along with the service.

A subsequent snack visit for warm bread rolls and dips of hummous, salsa and mayonnaise, plus some decent fries was better. Even the ice cold Stella worked. Maybe Cafe Rouge's best for a quick drop-in, rather than as a proper restaurant.

There's another Cafe Rouge in Manchester, except it spells its name in English. Manchester United's Red Cafe at Old Trafford, provides burgers and fish and chips and is exactly what it says on the tin. It's not great but it's honest. Cafe Rouge meanwhile is a mirage of France, a sham. If you're in the Spinningfields area try the People's History Museum cafe, or the Mark Addy, or Cafe Istanbul for some genuine cooking.

Not that is this an ideal location for a Cafe Rouge in any case.

As our visits demonstrated it's an indistinguishable high street chain in a quiet, if attractive, waterside location which should rock with guests on sunny days. But high street chains need footfall because they are never attractive enough to drag custom to less frequented areas.

Perhaps what's needed in this location is a good destination venue: maybe a pot-au-feu making, mid-priced, French beauty, cooking regional foods with a bit of flare. Like one of those London places.

You never know. And it'd make Gordo happy.

A dead meringue
Rating: 9/20
Breakdown: 4/10 food
4/5 service
1/5 ambience
Address: Cafe Rouge
Unit B3/4 Left Bank
0161 839 0456

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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32 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

MrCreosoteApril 15th 2010.

Sorry that this is OY.... but has anyone else started getting floating ad boxes traversing across the middle of the pages on ManCon?

Seriously seriously irritating..... and I'm paying a subscription for this? Sheesh.....

CASApril 15th 2010.

Mrcreosote, glad you mentioned it and didn't sit on the fence. Thought it was just me.

Leigh ScottApril 15th 2010.

me too grrrrr

Jonathan Schofield - editorApril 15th 2010.

We're trying to fix it. Bear with us.

Leigh ScottApril 15th 2010.

My first and best experience of Café Rouge was their branch in Nottingham a few years ago.It was in it's own free standing buildin an ex banking hall and on a warm summers evening the layout of the restaurant was welcoming staff friendly and attentive food was well prepared, a 3 piece jazz set were playing french jazz playing in the corner and the food was excellent....Then I went to the one on Deansgate...shite! Dis-interested staff,I felt like I WAS in a themed location sandwiched between the likes of Label and The Living room. The place felt cold and was not really that busy, the layout is poor too. For me it's not so much the chain as with any place, some chains are great (Grill on the Alley et-al)it's the setting layout and how it functions.

HBIFFApril 15th 2010.

Good idea, bears are excellent coders.

DescartesApril 15th 2010.

That's the problem with franchises, it's all down to the parent company to monitor standards and make sure people are worthy of the name they've bought into. McDonalds, Starbucks and Burger King are great examples of standardised franchises - I don't like any of them, but you're almost guaranteed the same level of service/food in each. Cafe Rouge, clearly not the same. Shame really.

NortherngeezerApril 15th 2010.

Floating add boxes eh...........us non subscribers dont get 'em, and i dont feel we are missing out, hehehe.

Leah BrothertonApril 15th 2010.

Agree with all of this review, I went to the one at The Printworks for a pre-MEN gig meal and it was horrendous, the tables are too close together and the food is rubbish!

Jennifer BaileyApril 15th 2010.

I went here at the weekend for a drink and a quick bite to eat by the river in the sunshine and enjoyed the experience. Only went because the mark addy was shut for a special party.

Drinks were reasonably priced, staff were friendly and we used the spinningfields yellow card which meant we got our second main meal for £1! I wouldn't apy full price for the food, but it was nice to be able to drink outside but in peace and out of the heaving city centre.

rob13347April 15th 2010.

Floating ads incredibly annoying and I make a point of not looking at the content.

Back to Cafe Rouge, we have two in Sheffield and they are both crap. Everything Jonathan said can be found here in Sheffield plus the staff are bad, in the city centre branch they don't know about the offers, food or how to total a bill. I'm not sure they cook the food on the premises, just warm up stuff delivered by 365. I found a strip of plastic in my steamed salmn ! Never going back.

Suzanne AckermanApril 15th 2010.

Best to stick with the Croque Monsieur. Or my favourite Croque Monsieur Anglais. (ham and cheese toastie with a fried egg on top!)

doublegApril 15th 2010.

Not only is everything fair comment I don't think you have gone close to far enough, what an 80's time warp shambles this place is, on every level it is not what you would expect of Spinningfields which is supposed to be a high end professional area !

Paul MastersApril 15th 2010.

I had a steak in here a bit ago (Deansgate)they came over like they do anyway it wasn't ok i told him it was to tough the manager came over then all the waiters came too telling him its the brevette its the bravette he asked me if I wanted a steak knife I told him no I need some new teeth he asked me if I wanted a sirloin as it would be better so I went for it 20 seconds later a raw sirloin came out burnt on the outside that went back too. the chips were O.K.

Smyth HarperApril 15th 2010.

At least they seem to do good chips...

Matt CzyzykApril 16th 2010.

True story, good friend of mine bumped into the band Arcade Fire on Peter Street when they were playing in Manchester a few years back. They were looking for somewhere to eat. She took them to a Cafe Rouge.

Don't expect to see them playing in Manchester any time soon.

Stuart BamberApril 16th 2010.

"There's another Cafe Rouge in Manchester, [Red Cafe]"

*cough* editorial ineptitude *cough*

There's been one in Didsbury for about a decade or so. Truly, truly underwhelming steaks.

Stuart BamberApril 16th 2010.

Ignore the above, just "got it". Duh. Apols.

HaApril 16th 2010.

I bet Stewie thought he/she was on a right self-rightous roll there before realising they had erred.

AnonymousApril 17th 2010.

Spiningfields 'professional' bah bah bah Just look at the other it mass catering offerings it attracts for the, effectively, office-jockey market It's in is in spooky darkness after 5 (on the ghost tour perhaps. You would do better with an M&S fish & cheese pie served with a interesting salad.

It's an idea ... how about some reviews of delivered meals and up scale ready meals or even a Mancon 'Come Dine With Me' (G&S up first) with lots of Waitrose and M&S vouchers.

AvoApril 17th 2010.

Are you on drugs ANONYMOUS?? None of that last post made sense.

rosieApril 17th 2010.

I want some of whatever Anon is on. Please.

AnonymousApril 17th 2010.

it's M&S Cheese and Fish pie with a well dress salad after melon in black sugar mint syrup, then carrot and coriander soup. After the pie, mashed strawberries and honey in Greek yoghurt (no meringue no 'mess':-)) Come dine with me!

JanApril 19th 2010.

Same blandness as any large chain restaurant be it Spanish (you know who you are), Italian, British etc...

Leigh ScottApril 20th 2010.

come dine with me? (snickers thinking of times past)...

Nicola DuncanApril 30th 2010.

Had a horrendous meal at the one in Didsbury 2 weeks ago, severely under & uninterested staff, definitely wont be returning

Jane BaxterMay 1st 2010.

Yes the one in Didsbury is appalling. I refuse to go there any more since I waited so long for service I helped myself to a menu, cutlery and was on my way behind the bar to get my own wine when a member of staff noticed me. But if you ever need anywhere to have a long sit down without being bothered this is the place.

user80572May 29th 2010.

seems pointless to slate a chain that does exactly what its management imposes! this is not a restaurant you go to when you want the highest calibre food, i think thats a given, i'm sure.

how can you expect a chain to serve top quality food when the staff are no where near top quality chefs, and they can't be either. With 114 odd premises how can you employ that many good chefs, without offering ridiculous wages.

plus with that many restaurants, how can you regulate the quality of food everyday on a grand scale. i think you should leave cafe rouge alone. it does a job, it feeds normal people, average food. what more do you want?

Tom HMay 29th 2010.

So should ManCon give crap chains higher scores just because they serve a market? Or should they not bother warning off more selective diners from crap chains?

HeatherMay 30th 2010.

I agree that this catalogue of insults is unfair. (USER80572). Value for money, C R is ok. It's not haute cuisine but having eaten at most places from The Ivy to The Dorchester to the Gritti Palace, I can still enjoy the minute steak, and a glass of wine served by willing staff in an ok, ambience that's not overcrowded, or noisy for around £12. It's a place for the weekdays when you might want to meet a friend and have a break from cooking. Let's get real! Let's have a realistic context for our league table of restaurant quality, like, er the price?

KeyboardsNovember 29th 2011.

Get real! We have just had lunch at Cafe Rouge Deansgate Manchester, (not our first or our last).
Lunch special two courses for £8.95 each.
Two nights ago we had dinner at a top hotel in Manchester, the meal was marginally better than Cafe Rouge, but there again it was over four times the price. With Cafe Rouge you get what you pay for, not the same in all cases.

Jonathan SchofieldNovember 29th 2011.

I live in a cloud of unreality up a tree of fantasy in a forest of stupidity. I'd really rather not get real and eat at Cafe Rouge. By your analogy you might as well take it down a notch and eat at McDonalds - that really does exactly what it says. I feel that may be my next review.

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