A true taste of France

Michelle Wood takes a trip to bijou bistro Coco Retro to experience its French inspired menu…


When we entered Coco Retro through an unassuming shop exterior on Vale Road early on a Thursday evening, the sun was still high in the sky. Warmly greeted by the sommelier, we nodded to a few patrons seated at an exquisite gold bar, who were chatting and laughing over their glasses of wine, while others dined at the counter.

With classic French discretion, we were ushered to our table in a cosy nook at the back of the ground floor section of the bistro. Surrounded by deep, rich wood walls, scarlet-topped tables bedecked with gleaming cutlery and crisp white napkins, I had a sense that we had been transported to the Left Bank in Paris. A candle glowing on our table, the evening stretched before us, fuzzy and romantic. We leaned into the experience.

We began our evening with an offering from the cocktail menu: A French 75 (gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and champagne) and a Kir Framboise (blanc de blanc white wine and raspberry liqueur). Crisp and fresh, both were a contrast to the sweetness that’s often the hallmark of cocktails. We enjoyed our aperitifs with a ramekin of mixed olives and a fresh baguette served with coco aioli, basil oil, Pernod and garlic butter. We toasted each other to the background strains of Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en Rose’.

The choice of entrées at Coco Retro, which opened in 2017 and is run by Maurizio Di Santo, was remarkably extensive with classic French staples such as snails in garlic, parsley and Pernod, and frog legs also on offer. We, however, settled for the slightly less adventurous, yet still exceptionally tasty, Crevette Marseille (fried king prawns with saffron mayo and salad) and fried calamari with sage and chilli tartare sauce, paired with a French De L’Amour rosé. Both portions were exceptionally and deliciously crispy, with a subtleness of flavour that made every mouthful a joy.

When it came to the ‘Plats Principaux’ (mains), we wondered if we had overextended ourselves with our starters but forged ahead, keen to try some of the restaurant’s signature dishes. After much debate about whether to try the dry-aged beef or the oven-baked salmon in leek and white wine sauce, I opted for the ‘Jarret d’agneau au Cassis’ (tender lamb shank in Bordeaux and Cassis sauce, served with mashed potato). My partner meanwhile had been waiting all evening to taste the duck confit in orange and Grand Marnier sauce which came served with Dauphinoise potatoes. We shared side orders of creamy spinach and cheese and minted petits pois.

Again, the portions were incredibly generous. The lamb shank was fall-off-the-bone tender and the glassy, beautifully rendered down sauce delivered all the subtlety of the flavours promised, without overwhelming the shank. Even the mashed potato, usually something I would avoid, was perfectly smooth and buttery. I savoured every forkful.

My only distraction from my gastronomic bliss was my partner’s effusive exclamations of delight at the sheer deliciousness of the duck confit. “It’s perfectly balanced… so tender… the best I’ve ever had.” After some persuasion to tear myself away from my lamb dish, I tasted a mouthful and had to agree: I can’t remember tasting a better duck confit.

After the generous portions and richness of our outstanding mains, I was reluctant to indulge in a dessert, but was coerced into sharing a chocolate mousse layered with a berry coulis and topped with cream. Dark and indulgent, its richness was tempered by the fresh berries.

By the time we left the restaurant, the evening was in full swing. While groups of friends gathered around the bar, couples at tables held hands and toasted with glasses of Champagne, revelling in Coco Retro’s romantic ambience. We exited the restaurant into the setting sun, sated and delighted to have discovered this dining gem. A walk down the High Street for some window shopping ended the evening perfectly.

In a town bursting with quality eateries, Coco Retro stands out. The authentic French flavours, slick service and warm, welcoming atmosphere make it the perfect option for a gathering with friends or a romantic date night out. After a night of superb dining, to quote the reverberating refrain of Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose: “I too now see life through rose-tinted glasses.”


Coco Retro can be found at 7 Vale Road. It is also easily accessed via the Torrington Car Park and The Tunbridge Wells Train Station. 018 92522773 or email enquiries@cocoretro.com

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