I last went to Cocotte in the hallowed days of “outdoor only dining”, that strange state of flux between April and May where everybody tiptoed out of lockdown like gentle ducks in search of a morsel or two of bread. No, not homemade sourdough, but something altogether less trendy and, crucially, baked by somebody else.
Cocotte is a health-focused rotisserie restaurant set up by a young Frenchman. It is full of seeded salads and elegantly frizzy leaves but don’t let that put you off. It’s a good place to eat. Before the roast chicken, which is free-range and well-sourced but still similar in price to Nando’s, there will be crispy spinach and goat’s cheese croquettes, a version with ham embedded in roux, halloumi fries and other moreish snacks. Then the chicken will come with sauces like mustard and tarragon, garlic mayonnaise or salsa verde, and there might be some sort of bowl full of cherry tomatoes, lentils, broccoli, smoked aubergine, and other such restorative things. They felt needed after a wintry lockdown.
When I went there last, I met with UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls. We discussed many things. One was the credibility of chicken and salad as a restaurant concept. It is a winning combination. Arguably it is done too much. When executed well, it really works, and isn’t any wonder Cocotte has grown to become a five-strong group. I appreciate the fact the food is accessible, colourful, and pretty nutritious, even if you order a side of truffle mash or French fries. Also I think anywhere that sources food from higher welfare farms but manages to keep prices affordable commands respect.
So here is founder Romain Bourrillon’s autumn salad, a nourishing precursor to all the roast potatoes to come.
45 minutes, serves 4
½ small butternut squash
3 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp smoked salt
10 shiitake mushrooms
2 tbsp Tamari
3 cups rocket
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 crisp pear
½ cup roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Peel the squash, remove the seeds and dice into 2cm cubes. Transfer the squash to a baking tray, add 1 tbsp of olive oil, a generous pinch of salt, and toss to coat. Distribute the cubes evenly and roast for 20 mins, turning occasionally.
2. Clean and trim away any woody ends off the mushrooms, toss with 1 tbsp of oil and 1 tbsp Tamari.
3. Remove the squash from the oven and nudge the cubes over to clear about ⅓ space on the tray. Add the mushrooms in a single layer and return to the oven for another 10 mins until the squash is very tender and the mushrooms are well browned. Stir both occasionally but keep separate. Set aside the mushrooms and squash to cool slightly.
4. Whisk the dressing ingredients (remaining oil and Tamari, and the smoked salt) together. Transfer the mushrooms and squash to a mixing bowl, and add the rocket, spring onions, pear and hazelnuts.
5. Combine the dressing with the salad and serve.