THE British, it is said, now lead the world in cuisine.

Try telling that to the French.

French cuisine remains the benchmark that all others must achieve to even start the process.

And yet, and yet, why is it so difficult to find a good, French-style restaurant in the UK?

A few honourable exceptions, true, but in general those well-known restaurant chains who consider themselves to have a flair-Francais tend to fall as flat as a sunken soufflé, a failed flambé, a ruined ratatouille.

Step up then Côte Brasserie who have just opened their latest restaurant in Winchester, a city that is fast becoming the epicurean centre of the south.

A chain, true, but with the offer of freshly prepared French fare, fabulous decor and a lovely, welcoming ambience, they were already in our good books (livres) as soon as the Murray family stepped through the door for a late-ish Sunday lunch.

Daily Echo:

A table in the window to watch the Winchester beau-monde idle by, a friendly un-rushed approach from our waitress to take our time over the menu; aperitifs, olives, gorgeous bread, and we were ready to peruse the offerings.

At first glance, it’s a daunting task.

Considering all meals are created fresh on the premises, the menu is extensive.

Pre-lunch snacks, for instance, ran the gambit from thinly sliced cured Burgundian sausage (sausage sec) to fougasse leaf-shaped garlic bread with parsley and sea salt, to the pissaladière – a wonderful offering of traditional flatbread from Nice, caramelised onions with a choice of either anchovy or reblochon cheese.

If that was extensive, then the range of starters was phenomenal in choice as well as depth. French onion soup, of course. They had to. Complaints would have issued had they not.

Chicken liver parfait? Moules Marinières? Fairly predictable. But Boudin Noir, a sautéed French black pudding with caramelised apples, poached egg and frisée salad? Now we are talking formidable.

Prawn gratinée and a wonderfully tempting mushroom feuilleté were among the other offerings.

I chose the French black pud, Mrs M the feuilleté and the youngest Miss M the onion soup, the latter dish presented just as it should be, oozing over the sides of its pretty white soup bowl. The pud was devine, the mushrooms spectacular Mrs M informed me and the Miss M was loath to share, which we thought rotten of her.

For mains the choice was just as spectacular.

There was even a light mains selection that offered risotto vert, spinach and mushroom crépes, several tempting salads and salmon fishcakes. But we weren’t here to worry about our waistlines.

Pan roasted pork belly, fish parmentier, rump of lamb, roast duck breast, chargrilled Breton chicken with garlic butter, the choice was sensational.

Steaks were tempting, with a wide range of sauces, as were the beef Bourguinon with its chive puree and bacon lardons, and the wonderfully-evocative Cassoulet De Toulouse – wonderful offering of duck, Toulouse sausage and smoked pork belly stew.

In the end the Miss M chose the sirloin steak and her parents the beef bourguignon. Both meals proved to be fantastic.

Puds included the wonderful crème caramel, of course, and praline crépes with caramelised bananas and crème chantilly. Fabulous.

Our meals came to a little over £75 for the three of us. Good value we thought and the staff and service were exemplary.

There’s no denying food in the UK has been transformed in recent years. But there’s no denying the French were there before us and Cote Brasserie provides a superb blend of what’s marvellous about both.

73 High St, Winchester, Hamphire, SO23 9DA. Tel: 01962 866 267.