Welcome to our Dining Beyond Zone 1 series of restaurant reviews, dedicated to seeking out quality local places to dine beyond the frenzy of Central London.
To see a review of a new restaurant on Bermondsey Street pop up on here a few years ago would have been unusual, even as part of our Dining Beyond Zone 1 series. But this is a street that’s now among the most culturally and culinarily exciting in London, boasting a number of highly regarded eateries and damn fine drinking spots. Italian restaurant Zucca and gastropub The Garrison have done their bit, but it was Jose Pizzaro, with his respectively named tapas bar and restaurant, Jose and Pizzaro (see what he did there), who really kicked Bermondsey Street into the limelight; it’s the GM from the latter who co-founded Casse Croute.
This small — bijou, if you will — restaurant opened quietly a few months ago, but quickly acquired more vocal admiration from locals, foodies London-wide and big name critics alike for its affordable French fare and undeniably Parisian atmosphere. Hearing the buzz about it, and noting its popularity — it’s at capacity even on our weekday lunchtime visit — there’s every temptation to consider it trendy. The paradox here is that what makes Casse Croute great is its old-school charm, classic cooking and absolute refusal to be ‘hip’ or ‘modern’. We even think the mild, weary disapproval we spotted in the eyes of our waiter on his realising we didn’t understand the French-only specials menu scribbled on a blackboard may have added to the experience. Well, it certainly made it more Parisian.
There’s no exchange rate to contend with, so it’s easy to see just how good value the wines here are — something the restaurant prides itself on. With a glasses of bubbly from £5.50, wines from £3 and a very good indeed Châteauneuf-du-Pape for just £6.50 a pop, it’s easy to feel very indulgent without having the funds to back it up. Mains hover just over the tenner mark, ensuring the food isn’t far off being equally as good a buy.
A starter of fish soup is a satisfyingly rich, deep orange colour and delivers all of the bold shellfish flavour to go with it, not to mention croutons and a healthy grating of Gruyère; it’s heartiness at its most elegant. A chestnut soup is a touch too thick for our liking, and had sat in the bowl just long enough to develop the beginnings of a thin skin — the flaws are noted, but it goes down a slick storm all the same. Must be that Parisian charm. Slow-cooked beef daube shows a return to glory. It is soft, unctuous, rounded and silken both in taste and texture. A pork tender-loin is equally moist, clearly just-cooked with the teeniest glimmer of pink remaining within. The French know how to do mashed potato and the buttery, whipped delight that accompanies our meaty mains only reinforces this.
A light and fluffy strawberry souffle, lubricated with a scoop of melting vanilla ice-cream is a fitting last indulgence, as French as can be, a tad elaborate, very old-school, bigged up with a lot of hot air and most importantly a reliable and thoroughly enjoyable experience, time and time again.
For a taste of Paris, skip the Eurostar and head to 109 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XB. Visit the website for more information.