London is one of the most expensive cities in the world for dining. It doesn’t have to be.
Casse-Croute, a bistro and wine bar that has just opened in Bermondsey, serves restaurant-quality food at prices you might have paid a decade ago. Starters are 6.50 pounds ($10), mains about 13 pounds and desserts 4.50 pounds.
The quirky and charming creation of respected industry veterans, it’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., starting with pain au chocolat and croissant.
Casse-Croute is located near London Bridge, which makes it handy for an assignation on your way home from the City.
The owners are 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, working with Morgan Meunier for 12 years.
Casse-Croute occupies a corner on Bermondsey Street, which is becoming a destination because of restaurants such as Zucca, Jose and Pizarro. It seats 20 and is pretty, the walls decorated with old signs and vintage photos of the owners’ families.
The day’s menu is chalked on a blackboard. There are three starters, three mains and three desserts.
I went along for lunch 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 pounds) 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 favorite 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.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 40 pounds for a hungry and thirsty diner.
Sound level? Not too noisy, about 75 decibels.
Inside tip? Go now. It could get a lot of attention.
Special feature? Pression beer, brewed by Red Squirrel.
Will I be back? Yes, on Saturday.
Date place? Yes, but intimate conversations shared.
109 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3XB. Information: +44-20-7407-2140 or http://www.cassecroute.co.uk/.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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