FAMILY holidays and a six-month spell travelling the country in my twenties taught me one thing – the French know what they’re doing when it comes to food.

I remember cosy restaurants bustling with people, the hum of conversation and the aroma of rich, delicious food.

It was with all this in mind that two of my colleagues and I strolled into Café Rouge on Bridge Street on Wednesday evening to check out their new Autumn menu.

And I can say from the outset that it didn’t disappoint.

We received a warm welcome from staff and were shown to our table towards the back of the restaurant.

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It was fairly empty at first, as we had booked in early at 6.30pm, but within an hour the place was filling up nicely and soon had that laid-back, unhurried and friendly atmosphere I was hoping for.

The lights and décor in the restaurant really add to this with impressive furnishings and soft lighting that simply evoke warmth.

Sipping from glasses of nicely chilled sauvignon blanc, we checked out the new menu, or ‘carte’, which is said to be inspired by a mix of French favourites, vegan options and British seasonal classics.

For my starter I opted for the port salut and caramelised onion soufflé’ with frisée, watercress, hazelnuts and chives. The dish was beautifully light and flavoursome, and set me up perfectly for the main course.

My colleague Matt went for the smoked trout pâté, hoping for a light option to leave room for his main course. He said the chargrilled sourdough provided a good, crunchy texture to contrast the creamy pâté, which, although delicate, provided enough of a punch in the taste department.

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Good-sized portions of trout in the pate made this a good option for fish-lovers, he said.

Mark chose the plaice goujons from the seasonal set menu. Served with saffron rouille and watercress (and a squirt of lemon juice), he said it made for an excellent appetiser with a mixture of flavours at just the right portion size.

Turning to mains, I plumped for the pork escalope – a breaded pork fillet with a fried, free range egg, thyme jus, cornichons and frites (fries).

I was slightly hesitant about the egg’s inclusion but the dish was recommended to me by the waitress and I’m glad I heeded her advice! The ingredients, textures and flavours worked very well together and the egg was perfectly cooked.

Matt went off-piste for his mains, trying a new dish that wasn’t on the set Autumn menu – bouillabaisse.

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A rich, tasty stew packed with salmon, hake, mussels and king prawns, he said it proved to be a real seafood treat.

The baguette croutons with saffron rouille provided some crunch and rich flavour, elevating what at first seemed quite a rustic dish to something quite special and indulgent.

If your budget and waistline can stand it, he recommended ordering extra bread to mop up every last drop.

Mark went for the chicken chasseur, a slow-cooked chicken in a white wine sauce with smoked bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, tarragon and thyme, plus a healthy dollop of herb mash.

He described it as a “heady combination” with the chicken cooked to perfection as the meat was easily separated from the bone, while the potato mash had excellent texture, taste and consistency.

The dessert menu at Cafe Rouge is a tantalising and dazzling array of choices. And for those who can't decide on one dish – in our case Matt - there is the Café Gourmand, a selection of classic French desserts in miniature; crème brûlée, mousse au chocolat and tarte au citron served with an espresso.

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On this occasion the crème brulee was substituted for a rhubarb crumble, so the selection provided a journey of tastes, from rich chocolate through zesty citrus and the tangy crumble, textures and temperatures.

“A real treat for the tastebuds!” in Matt’s words.

It was my turn to veer off the set menu this time as I had spotted one of my culinary weaknesses – bread and butter pudding – on the main carte.

A new dish, again recommended to me by the waitress, this was actually brioche bread and butter pudding with French orange liquor. And it was divine.

It had that lovely, creamy stodginess that for me defines the pudding, but it was also presented in a very elegant manner that set it apart from the traditional British version.

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When it came to dessert, Mark opted for the torte au chocolat, which he said was unfortunately a touch underwhelming with not much flavour to the accompanying vanilla crème fraîche, leaving him looking enviously at my nearby brioche bread and butter pudding.

However, the waitress had also advised there was one serving left of their new-to-the-menu beignets - mini doughnuts with cinnamon sugar, to be served with salted caramel or dark chocolate sauce.

Having gratefully accepted the chance to have a taste of this (who could resist mini doughnuts?), the results did not disappoint, with the doughnuts being melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

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Overall, we were very impressed with both the restaurant and the new Autumn menu.

The service throughout was superb – non-intrusive but there when you need it. We were also given excellent recommendations.

For anyone wanting a cosy, bustling, family-friendly restaurant with great food and service then Café Rouge fits the bill perfectly.

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