Already the owner of the Greenhouse, Umu and Morton's private members' club in London, Marlon Abela's MARC group added Provençale-themed newcomer Cassis Bistro to its portfolio last year. Tom Vaughan went to visit
Marlon Abela is a cosmopolitan kind of man. His new London opening, Cassis Bistro, is a cosmopolitan kind of restaurant. While Provençale in the kitchen, it is very much pan-global in its delivery. Nothing about the slick, styled interiors, with its bare tables and Julian Opie art, hints at the menu; it would find itself equally at home in any of Abela's adopted homelands - London, New York or southern France. It is also, it should be noted, not really a bistro - its claim to partisanship with the informal zeitgeist stretches as far as a relaxed attitude to diners ordering fewer than three courses, as if to do so at an eatery that hasn't outed itself as a bistro might be a terrible faux pas.
That aside, as international-style restaurants go, Cassis Bistro is a success. Plonk it anywhere with moneyed denizens and it'd turn a profit. While the smart interiors and mood lighting help, the backbone of the operation lies with an accessible and tempting menu of mainly Provençale dishes.
General manager Jean-Marie Miorada says the kitchen team - headed up by David Escobar, who arrived from the three-Michelin-starred Lameloise restaurant near Dijon - played slightly with the brief: "The menu is extended to include a bit of the Mediterranean. But it is based around those herbs that are the scent of Provence - thyme, lavender, rosemary."
The menu is unrelated to any three-star fussiness, dealing in flavoursome and sophisticated comfort food that hits the spot more times than not. The one concession to style and to Michelin, it could be argued, is the fancy finger food, or the petit bouchées as they are called on the menu. Designed to offer a light snack to accompany a glass of wine, says Miorada, they also work as an amuse bouche or a collection of sharing starters. They range from egg mimosa with crab mayonnaise (£5.50) to a Corsican charcuterie selection (£16).
Starters, as with mains and desserts, are littered with choices combining the fresh flavours and seafood one associates with Provence with some deeper flavours more germane to winter in London. Grilled stuffed squid with piquillo pepper and passata sauce (£7) was a case in point, although the baby mollusc was slightly overpowered by the hit of the rich tomato sauce and peppers. Elsewhere, sea bream carpaccio, marinated courgette and Menton lemon (£8) and thin slices of octopus, capers and tomato sauce vierge (£6.50) spark memories of summer holidays.
The Cassis bouillabaisse (£29), says Miorada, is the star of the show, and it's hard to argue. Made with saffron potatoes, shellfish, whole fish fillets, Gruyère-topped croutons and a rouille (saffron, chilli, potatoes to thicken), it brings all the heady flavours of Provence together in one dish. A punchy steak tartare made with Black Angus sirloin (£21) and the likes of pappardelle with wild boar and chickpeas (£14) are among the other unfussy mains.
Desserts include enormous vanilla or Grand Marnier soufflés (both £8) and a salted crème caramel (£5), while a pithy list contains some excellent wines: a 2007 Monbazillac Les Pins (£7.50 for 100ml), for example, sitting exquisitely with a dish of pan-fried Landes foie gras with sunflower nougatine and juniper jus (£13).
As you might expect from a self-styled bistro, dishes in the 90-cover site arrive snappily, although the goal is not to maximise, says Miorada, with cover numbers rarely exceeding 100. With its French doors opening onto the pavement and a tempting brunch and set lunch menu, it's very possible that Cassis exudes more of that bistro vibe during the day. One concession I will make is that, as befits the best bistros, Cassis isn't necessarily the kind of restaurant you'd travel to, rather it's one you'd be very happy to find around the corner from your actual destination.
Sample dishes from the menu
Choice of homemade pâtés, fig chutney and country bread £8 Pumpkin soup, chestnut and Provençal goat's cheese £6.50 Queen scallop ragout, coco beans and lemon thyme £10
Pan-fried red mullet, fregola sarda pasta and brown shrimps £20 Monkfish ‘ossobuco', tomatoes and basil £21 Veal kidney, violet mustard sauce and raisins £17
Pear millefeuille and sorbet £7 Chocolate, orange and pine nut tart £6 Chocolate Rocher; almond nougatine, hazelnut chocolate mousse £7
Cassis Bistro 232-236 Brompton Road, London SW3 2BB
Tel: 020 7581 1101