The opening of Cassis in Brompton Road represents a new departure for restaurateur and wine mogul Marlon Abela. Not only is Cassis well removed from Mayfair, where his other establishments – Morton’s private club, Umu and The Greenhouse – are located, but it also claims to be a bistro, rather than a fine dining restaurant. However, this modest description fails to do justice both to the stylish décor and the quality of the cooking.
The large, glass fronted room, attractively decorated in shades of brown and cream, is the design of Tara Bernerd of Target Living. It bears little resemblance to the homely features of a classic bistro. Whilst the lack of tablecloths, wooden floors and open fireplace might suggest a degree of informality, the glossy surfaces, comfortable banquettes, sharp spotlighting, oak framed wine displays and high quality prints speak of an expensive contemporary elegance, in keeping with a SW3 location.
Nor does the cuisine reflect the usual average level of bistro cooking. This is hardly surprising given the experience of head chef David Escobar, who heads a brigade of twenty in the kitchen. He spent four years at the Michelin three starred Maison Lameloise in Burgundy before becoming Marlon Abela’s private chef. Just as his predecessor in this role, Antonin Bonnett, was given control of the Greenhouse kitchens, so Abela’s latest protégé has full rein in this latest opening to demonstrate his skill and flair
These are amply seen in the menu, which emphasises the bold and gutsy dishes of Provence and France’s Mediterranean coast. It impresses by its sheer range and quality of ingredients. Eight Petites Bouchees, feature suitably intense green and black olive tapenade, pissaladiere and Corsican chacuterie .Ten Entrees include four seafood dishes – the most adventurous being grilled stuffed squid, piquillo pepper and passata sauce – alongside classic pate, foie gras and salad offerings. Twelve Plats principaux include thee fish and seven meat and poultry mains, although only one purely vegetarian dish is listed. Nine desserts include the classic tarte tropezienne, that delectable combination of brioche and crème patissiere.
Generous portions and value for money are bistro characteristics which Cassis does emulate. On the carte, Petites Bouches range from £2.50 to £16; Entrees £6.50 – £13; Plats Principaux £13 – £24 and Desserts £5 – £8. Although Mediterranean fish bouillabaisse is priced at a lofty £29, it does include whole fish fillets and shellfish. There is also a set lunch, £17 for two courses, £20 for three, and a reduced choice carte in the afternoon.
Fine-dining-guide visited Cassis for a mid week dinner in January.
The meal began with excellent breads: focaccia, sour dough, black olive and country bread were models of their kind; extra virgin olive oil for dipping was also of very high quality.
Of the three Petites Bouches sampled, egg mimosa was outstanding: utterly fresh white and brown crab meat mixed with properly made mayonnaise filled three halves of hard boiled egg.
Barbajuans, deep fried Monegasque pastries, were well executed – non greasy – if rather heavy; they came with individual fillings of spinach, chicken liver and goat’s cheese. Strongly flavoured pastis flambed snails with garlic butter were let down by their vol au vent containers which would have benefitted from a richer puff pastry
An entrée of queen scallop ragout proved rather bland, the al dente coco beans overwhelming the seafood. The lemon thyme was barely noticeable in this most disappointing dish. By contrast, pan fried Landes foie gras was meltingly rich, well seasoned with juniper jus and given textural variety by an unusual brittle of sunflower nougatine.
For carnivores, main courses proved an embarrassment of choice, with bistro classics reaching new heights of excellence in their execution. Provencal daube of beef, slow cooked to a tender unctuousness, came with a Bagnol wine sauce, its richness being cut by the addition of orange. Herb crusted rack of lamb was precisely timed to produce succulent, fully flavoured pink meat. Chorizo batons and chestnuts gave extra spice and richness which was balanced by soft polenta.
Rib eye steak (28 day matured Black Angus) was grilled to medium rare perfection. Its smooth peppered sauce had a gentle heat with a well judged mix of brandy and cream.
Desserts, so often an anti climax in bistro eating, were equally impressive. A Grand Marnier and orange soufflé was huge – easily enough for two. However, its feather light texture and intense flavour rendered it a manageable delight for a single diner. Pear mille feuille was a master class in patisserie; Ice creams and sorbets, including the exquisite pear sorbet which accompanied the mille feuille, were velvety smooth with clean, deep flavours.
Other aspects of the meal enhanced the whole experience. Wines – from a list of over 700 from France, Italy and Spain – were carefully chosen by the sommelier to match the food. Prices vary to suit all pockets. Friendly, knowledgeable and attentive service was carefully overseen by Jean Marie-Miorada whose experience at The Greenhouse, enabled him to manage his new team effectively. It coped well with the dining room, which was approaching its 70-80 capacity.
It is clear that no effort or expense has been spared to make Cassis an exciting addition to an area already replete with restaurants of all kinds. What makes Cassis stand out, and which will allow it to survive the intense competition, are its unrivalled provision of Provencal cuisine coupled with outstanding Michelin quality cooking. Marlon Abela has produced another restaurant of quality, which will undoubtedly gain the recognition it deserves from the guides.