In 1900, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette broke into the French mainstream with her debut novel, Claudine at School (Claudine à L’école). Although she didn’t get a ton of credit for her work until 1931, Colette continued to write through the 1940s, becoming a French icon and a literary inspiration.
A century later, Colette is inspiring more than writers. In early February, Loic Le Garrec and Sandrine Rossi opened Colette Wine Bistro. Le Garrec is the owner of Petit Robert Bistro, and the two co-own Frenchie, both of which are well-reputed South End staples—the former for its traditional French cuisine and the latter for its trendy personality and photogenic environment.
This restaurant family maintains a consistency of traditional French flavors in different atmospheres. Colette is the younger sister to Frenchie, similar in its appearance and menu but with a little more flair (aka pink), and the edgy step-daughter of Petit Robert, disapprovingly sassy and bold with sharp puns scattered across the menu. The new establishment breaks free of the mold, veering off the beaten path as it leaves the posh South End for the more laid-back kind of trendy in Cambridge.
Still, Colette is a page from the same book: On the ground floor of the Porter Square Hotel, it retains a particular classiness that seems to be required for French restaurants, donning metallic tables, plush furniture, floral wallpaper, and pops of pink.
Colette is spacious, extending into a deep dining area with small tables comfortably dispersed. Antique mirrors decorate the floral wallpaper, and delicate light fixtures illuminate the space inspired by an unusual combination of French antiquity and clean, floral trends that somehow comes together elegantly. Furnished prettily with a variety of plush chairs and couches around small gold tables, the environment is cute but not particularly practical. The tables are tiny, probably the perfect size for a dainty tea service that the restaurant doesn’t offer, but too tiny for the oblong plates and bulky mugs and saucers.
But more important than how the food is served is what food is served. Colette offers a lot of traditional French flavors—numerous dishes feature béchamel and hollandaise sauces, plenty of root vegetables, and an abundance of buttery breads for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and (on weekends) brunch.
The lunch and dinner menu consists of raw seafood, cheese and charcuterie boards, hot and cold small plates, and larger entrees, while breakfast offers pastries, a few small plates, and a couple of egg-based dishes. On the other hand, the brunch menu is a happy medium, carrying a lot of elements of both and more, including waffles and French toast, as well as sandwiches and benedicts. It isn’t a particularly lengthy menu, but it doesn’t need to be—there are more than enough enticing options for an indecisive customer to get caught in a dilemma.
Sweet menu items are basically desserts—caramel-covered ice cream, Nutella-stuffed French toast, and black and white pudding are just a few of the options for brunch—while the savory options are excessively rich, with fatty meats, heavy sauces, and potatoes fried every which way.
Colette offers a decadent menu that begs its customers to indulge. As Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake,” Colette implores, “Let there be brunch!”
Featured Images by Colleen Martin and Mary Wilkie / Heights Editors