Cassis bistro: another Abela hit
Posted by Fiona Beckett (Google+)
on December 9 2010 at 10:20
Being a Marlon Abela fan I was keen to check out his new new ‘Provencal bistro’ Cassis as soon as possible so went anyway yesterday even though my dining companion had fallen by the wayside.
Abela is the restaurateur who runs Umu which must be one of the best, if not the best high end Japanese restaurant in London along with the Greenhouse, Morton’s and two branches of A Voce in New York. His new Knightsbridge enterprise is not really a bistro nor even wholly Provenal, but a sophisticated modern brasserie that is perfect for this part of town. It already has the air of a place that’s been open for months. Abela has deep enough pockets to ensure that no restaurant of his opens unless everything is working seamlessly.
Dining on your own is actually quite fun as it gives you a chance to analyse a place uninterruped by the desire to catch up with a colleague or friend. I came up with a list of seven things Abela could teach the novice restaurateur:
- Less is more. Despite the fact that his chef David Escobar came from a 3 star restaurant (Lameloise in Chagny) this is very simple unfussed food relying on pristine ingredients. My queen scallop ragout with coco beans and lemon thyme were just exactly that. Irreproachable scallops, perfect with my accompanying glass of Cassis (what else?)
- That said, there must be a dish that everyone’s going to talk about - in this case, I suspect the 'barbajuans', cute bon-bon shaped deep-fried dough pastries (above) with three different fillings of spinach, goats cheese and chicken liver that are part of the tapas-like ‘petites bouches’ menu. Utterly delicious. As is the John Dory with braised fennel and gingerbread spices - just enough of a twist to make the dish distinctive.
- You need an angle which shouldn’t be a clich. It would have been easy to play up the Provence vibe with deep ochre walls and olive motifs everywhere. Instead the room is decorated in light neutral colours and is clean and uncluttered. And - heaven - the tables are not too close together.
- Southern French is sexier than Northern or Central French. When people open French-inspired restaurants they tend to be based on bistro classics (like Les Deux Salons). And, much as I love them, Abela has realised that southern French food is lighter, healthier and more in tune with the way people want to eat. For a similar approach see La Petite Maison.
- The wine list should be interesting, not just expensive. As you’d expect it majors on Provence, the Languedoc and the Rhone but there’s a strong Burgundy section (Abela’s personal passion, I suspect) plus wines from round the Mediterranean - Corsica, Greece and Morocco included. Only token German and Austrian wines, curiously. The very reasonable Spanish house wines, Mynus +, tailormade as far as I can see for Abela’s own wine agency Marc Fine Wines are only £4 a glass, £17 a bottle.
- Casual is the new smart. Abela, like other successful restaurateurs, has grasped that there’s a new generation of diners who don’t want the fuss and faff of a formal Michelin restaurant. Which doesn’t mean you don’t get Michelin-standard service just that it’s more friendly and less unobtrusive.
- Location, location, location. Money again but Abela always puts his restaurants in a smart part of town. Mayfair and Knightsbridge. As you would if you could afford to.
What else did I eat? A globe artichoke 'faon petits farcies' generously stuffed with meat - including, according to the menu though I didn't pick up the taste chorizo which would (unusually) match with any red wine you chose, I suspect. (Again it went well with the Cassis). A side of ratatouille, each vegetables, separate and bright but full of warm sunny flavours. And an impeccable chocolate, orange and pinenut tart that didn't taste too much like a Terry's Chocolate Orange - though I half-wished I'd had the salted crme caramel.
A few minor quibbles. I’d say the beans could have done with a few minutes more cooking. The language skills of the French staff need honing - my waiter found it hard to understand I wanted two half portions of the starters rather than one full one (as I was eating on my own I wanted to try a greater selection of things on the menu than one person would normally order). Some might find the room slightly slick and corporate - but I doubt if the target clientele will (it’s also very New York). It could be seriously expensive, but you could graze off the petites bouches and lunch is a very reasonable £17 for two courses. So thumbs up. Go!
Cassis is at 232-236 Brompton Road (on the right as the road forks left down to South Ken) Tel: 020 7581 1101
I ate at Cassis as a guest of the restaurant.