18 Selsdon Road
South Croydon CR2 6PA
Tel. 0208 633 1818
Food type: French
Food rating: 2/10
Nearest tube: South Croydon (Overground Train)
Website: Le Cassoulet
While most foodies are well aware of Le Vacherin, it is probably Le Cassoulet which put John on the map when it was awarded a Bib Gourmand in the 2009 Michelin Guide – the first restaurant in Croydon to receive this honour. The restaurant itself is located around the corner from John’s other restaurant, Fish & Grill which I had visited a few days prior.
Stepping into the restaurant, you are immediately reminded of saloon you see in cowboy movies. The decor does its best to capture the flavour of a classic French bouchon with its lilac flowers imprinted wall papers, velvet-backed chairs, striped banquettes and royal purple curtains. The white clothed tables are draped with white paper while the floor is wooden with no carpet in sight. A few prints of roosters and fruits garnish the wall.
As its name suggest, Le Cassoulet serves up its ubiquitously named dish along with other classic French bistro dishes. Like other Malcolm John restaurants, great care is placed in the sourcing of the ingredients. Starters are priced between £6.50 – £12, Mains £14.50 – £17.95 (A chateaubriand for two is £42), Side dishes £2.50 – £4.50 and Desserts £6.50 – £8.95. A lunch menu is also available at £16.50 for 3 courses.
Brown bread is supplied by Maison Blanc and is served cold with two types of butter – simple salted butter and unsalted green peppercorn infused. The bread was passable although by comparison this was less good than the bread served at Fish & Grill (1/10). The butter was frustratingly unspreadable, too cold for its own good.
I started with a true French classic – escargots cooked with garlic parsley butter. Armed with my snail tongs and special snail extracting fork, I worked my way quickly through six plump molluscs. They had reasonable texture although the butter sauce was over-salted. More of the brown bread (this time warmed) accompanied the dish. (1/10)
Frog Legs, Garlic & Parsley
Next was a plate of frogs legs gently cooked with more garlic, parsley and butter (I would dare you to take a whiff of my breath after this meal). Timing was yet again spot on, with the plump frogs leg keeping its soft, succulent texture. Unlike the dish preceding this, I felt that the frogs legs were under-seasoned. Did they run out of salt or were my taste buds just numb from all the sodium chloride from the dish prior? (1/10)
Assiette of Hare, Truffled Mash, Red Cabbage
The best dish of the day was a sublime plate of hare featuring roasted fillet, pan fried loin and a pie of braised hare leg. The fillet was served on a bed of red cabbage braised with a few apples and an indulgent, buttery truffled mash. A little red wine jus finished the whole dish off. I had previously enjoyed a very good hare dish at the Square and the cooking of the fillet in particular more than held its own with its accompaniments carefully judged. If only the same could have been said about the pot pie which was sadly bland, yet again from a lack of a seasoning. In all honesty, I don’t see the need of the pie in the first place and the dish would have scored better without. (5/10 overall, but 7/10 if you ignore the pie)
[At this point, the manager approached me to ask me why I was taking photos of my food (on my sad camera phone, no less). I explained to him that I was taking it for my personal collection to which he claimed that their company did not allow photos to be taken without prior permission and told be cease taking any further pictures. I respectfully agreed but I would like to point out that ‘it is company policy not to allow photos to be taken’ is utter tosh given the fact that I was at Fish & Grill only a few days prior when Malcolm John was in the kitchen and they were happy for me to take as many photos as I wanted. Apparently the manager is new and had just started work here.]
I finished off with a tarte tatin. Here it is served as a portion for two people but given that this is my favourite dessert, I simply couldn’t resist going for it. Preparation time takes 25 minutes which is always a good sign as it means the kitchen is preparing it a la minute instead of simply reheating pre-made tarts. Such waits tends to end up in disappointment which unfortunately was the case here. While the pastry was of reasonable quality, my problem lied in the caramel which was cloyingly sweet masking the sharpness of the apple. In my opinion, the best tarte tatin has just that small tang of acidity from the apple which gives this very rich dessert a huge lift. Nevertheless, the apples were fine (I would prefer them a touch firmer) and the homemade vanilla ice-cream, made with proper Madagascar Vanilla, was of very good quality. (3/10)
Service was a bit of an enigma. On one hand, my server, a young lady whose name I have failed to remember, was pleasant, helpful and attentive even if she did not know the menu inside out. The downside of this was the manager who would not have been out of place starring in an episode of Kitchen Nightmares. I am not taking the whole issue of photography to heart, but it did iritate me when he blatantly saw that I had finished eating but still stood around twiddling his thumbs despite my server busy tending to other customers instead of just clearing up my plates.
The food? Well, I was expecting a lot from Le Cassoulet given my great experience at Fish & Grill. However, aside from a superb half dish (part of the hare main course) cooking here in general was inconsistent, let down by careless seasoning. Malcolm John does not do much cooking here anymore, preferring to spend more time at his new venture and this clearly showed when I visited.