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No clowning around for busy staff in Coco

By Gary Law

Published 19/10/2007

The emphasis is on comfort food rather than cutting edge cuisine - and that's just fine in this unpretentious little slice of County Down

Cafe Coco

Address: 69 Newry Street, Banbridge, Co Down

Tel: Reservations 4062 2244

In Banbridge town in the County Down one evening just last week. Not a boreen green, but on the main street clean, was a bistro we did seek.

OK, so my deft lyrical adaptation of one of Ulster's most famous traditional songs will hardly have Tim Rice trembling in his boots, but it does give me the opportunity to ponder if Cafe Coco - a smart-looking eating house right in the centre of town - could be a Star of the County Down.

If looks are anything to go by, there's certainly been real effort to give it some star quality. From the sheen of the nut-brown decor to the polished wood, muted lighting and circle motifs, Cafe Coco has that retro chic lounge look in spades.

The bar has a corner set aside for those essential squashy leather sofas and the main feature of the dining area is a series of circular booths with a bold monochrome floral pattern on the curving walls behind.

On the night my wife Karen and I turned up, the restaurant seemed to be pretty busy, although there were only two members of staff doing all the order-taking and serving. They managed heroically, and none of our waits between courses was unduly long, but I imagine the pair of them would have been really stretched had the place been any busier.

The Cafe Coco menu consists largely of hearty fare with not much to interest the vegetarian. Beef, chicken and lamb predominate, with a smattering of fast food favourites like fish, chips and mushy peas, bangers and mash, and even the chef's own curry.

From a list of starters that included pate, Caesar salad and fishcakes, Karen picked out the goat's cheese bruschetta - a mini-mountain of cheese, roasted veg and tapenade piled on ciabatta and dotted with sundried tomato pesto - while I opted for two little fillets of pan-fried seabass on top of a very tasty shrimp risotto. Both were packed with punchy flavours, but they also packed a fair punch in the price department.

The seabass risotto, in particular, was a hefty £6.50.

Mains consisted of half a honey-roast duck perched on an Asian noodle stir-fry for me, and a tender fillet of beef with a rich porcini and red wine jus for Karen.

The redcurrant and star anise glaze on my duck was too subdued for my liking, although the stir-fry had crunchy vegetables galore, while Karen's beef came with sweet caramelised shallots and yet more richness courtesy of creamy dauphinoise potatoes.

From the dessert menu I chose a pleasantly gooey slice of chocolate fudge cake, and Karen selected a surprisingly generous cheeseboard (just £3.75) which featured an array of five cheeses and an unfortunate selection of crackers that were on the verge of losing their crack.

Another pricing surprise emerged when we ordered coffee - my Americano was £1.50 while Karen's double espresso was a whopping £2.80. At the other end of the scale, however, the wines were pretty good value, with all the house wines under a tenner, and our bottle - a Dr Loosen riesling that I confess wasn't entirely appropriate to what we were eating - just £12.50.

Ultimately, Cafe Coco is a relaxed, friendly place well suited to both families or a gang of friends on a night out, for despite all its modernist trappings, the food really leans more towards comfort than cutting edge. Rather than being one of the stars of the County Down, it's a restaurant that's a little more down to earth. And if truth be told, that's actually what a lot of people want.

What we had

Goat's cheese bruschetta £5.25

Seared seabass £6.50

Fillet of beef £16.95

Honey roast duck £13.25

Cheeseboard £3.75

Chocolate fudge cake £3.75

Americano £1.50

Double espresso £2.80

Wine £12.50

TOTAL: £66.25

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