A tiny bistro that's a big bargain
London is one of the most expensive cities in the world for dining. Casse-Croute shows it doesn't have to be.
The bistro and wine bar, which just opened on Bermondsey Street, serves restaurant-quality food at prices you might have paid a decade ago. Starters are £6.50 ($12.7), entrees are about £13 ($25.5) and desserts £4.50 ($8.84).
Casse-Croute is near London Bridge, which makes it handy on the way to or from the City, especially since it's open 9 am to 10 pm.
It occupies a corner on Bermondsey Street, which is becoming a destination because of restaurants there such as Zucca, Jose and Pizarro. Casse-Croute seats 20 and is pretty, decorated with old signs and vintage photos of the owners' families.
The quirky and charming creation of respected industry veterans: Herve Durochat, ex-Hakkasan, Yauatcha, Pizza East and Shoreditch House, and business partner of restaurateur Jose Pizarro; Alexandre Bonnefoy, who was assistant head sommelier at the Arts Club; and Sylvain Soulard, who was head chef at Morgan M.
The day's menu is chalked on a blackboard: three starters, three entrees and three desserts.
I lunched with chef Stevie Parle of Dock Kitchen and we tried all three starters: skate on crushed tomatoes, soft and sweet mackerel roulettes and a boiled egg with Jambon de Bayonne, and Comte cheese soldiers.
Each plate was attractive yet unfussy, the seasoning and cooking just right.
Mains may include a classic supreme de volaille - poached chicken in a cream sauce - with girolles (£13.5) and petits farcis: red peppers, courgettes and tomato with pork and parsley stuffing. (The chef will prepare vegetarian dishes on request.) The floating island dessert is up there with that of Arbutus, which holds a Michelin star.
The French-led wine list is short, well chosen and without big mark-ups, with most options available by the glass and carafe.
A glass of the Chateau de Beaupre 2012 rose is a lovely way to start a meal here on a summer's day.
Casse-Croute reminds me of tiny bistros where I used to go for a prix-fixe lunch in St. Germain 40 years ago, only prettier and with better service.
There are times when you don't want your culinary horizons expanded and you don't want to be challenged too much. You want to enjoy food that embraces French tradition without being strangled by it.
London's been blessed with some great new restaurants this year, including chef Bruno Loubet's Grain Store (my favourite so far); Jason Atherton's Little Social and Social Eating House; and Eric Chavot's Brasserie Chavot.
This tiny bistro is up there with those big beasts.
Casse-Croute, 109 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3XB. +44-20-7407-2140.
- Bloomberg News