“The lavender plants are so cute!” I squeaked with joy as I sat down at our table in the middle of Cassis’ chic interior. I looked around with big eyes and squeaked again when a waft of hay reached my nose. Just like being in Provence, I mused.
With fresh herbs, lilac-clad bartenders and a good dose of Côte D’Azur glamour, Cassis is not far away from delivering its promise: “Provence on a plate”. It’s not a rustic bistro however, nor does it feel like a place for those with a penchant for sneakers and fanny packs. This is Brompton Cross, chéri, and we all know that Chanel is roughly five doors down the road and that there is probably an Aston Martin parked on nearby Walton Street.
Not that I mind. Cassis is elegant, charming and serves great food. There are few restaurants of Cassis’ calibre in South Kensington, and with high quality ingredients and decent prices it wouldn’t surprise me if this newly opened little Mediterranean lookout establishes itself as a longstanding local haunt.
We received a warm welcome by the sommelier who approached us swiftly after we’d perused the promising menu. This smooth French garçon soundly suggested a food and wine pairing meal. This idea seemed to me most wise, as I had kick-started the night with a splendid vodka martini at The Berkeley Hotel and my judgement was anything but wise.
My companion, who with one eye scrutinised the contemporary art on the walls, took a look at the specials menu with the other, and quickly made up his mind. I struggled. Not because the menu was uninspiring, it was rather the opposite, and that made it problematic. Grilled squid with piquillo pepper fought for my attention while the seam bream carpaccio whispered how light and fresh its marinated courgettes and Menton lemons would be on my palate. The carpaccio won the battle and true to its word, it delivered a fantastically light taste sensation that didn’t leave me feeling too full for the plats principeaux. My dining partner, who was intrigued by the coco beans accompanying his queen scallop ragout, found that this little bean had nothing to do with chocolate at all. It’s actually a bean with AOC status and a quintessentially French haricot sec.
We were given ample time to digest our starters before our mains arrived, along with two new glasses of wine that had been matched with our dinner choices. So far, we’d had a pleasant experience, but we were about to be hit with a forceful culinary power that left our senses spinning merrily. And it wasn’t absinthe. It was Puntalette pasta gratin. A smooth, creamy side dish that outshone both my perfectly cooked roasted duck breast with chickpea galette and my companion’s tender hay-cooked lamb. This small, rice-shaped pasta was the star of the show, the talk of the table, and quite frankly a good reason to come back.
As our dessert choices hit the table, we both knew it couldn’t compare to the Puntalette experience. Still, with a chocolate Rocher, an almond nougatine with hazelnut chocolate mousse, and a salted crème caramel in front of us, we bravely carried on. Unfortunately, the dessert menu was too heavy on the French side for my taste, with tarts, croustillants and millefeuille abundant, and I can’t say the crème caramel blew me away. My companion, on the other hand, attacked his little chocolate bump with much gusto.
Part of the MARC group and with reputable London siblings such as Umu and The Greenhouse, it would be rather shocking if Cassis was one of those nondescript bistros you forget in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, it is not. The food is engaging with simple ingredients that bring out the fun in Mediterranean cooking. From the bouillabaisse to the Pastis flambéed snails, it takes its Provencal heritage seriously. Should you doubt any of the above, just order the Puntalette. Incroyable!
Cassis Bistro, 232 Brompton Road, South Kensington, London SW3 2BB. Tel: 020 7581 1101. Website.