I've heard many good things about Le Cassoulet. Malcolm John's restaurant is located in deepest, darkest Croydon and I was surprised to find bloggers trekking out there to visit it. Handily enough, Croydon is mere 20 minute train ride for me. This made it prime pick for my birthday lunch with my parents, as it's half way for us.
Arriving in South Croydon, it struck me as an unsual place to have a restaurant awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin. It's located on a quiet high street, not a soul in sight save one lone hobo, who jittered up and down the stretch no less than 3 times in as many hours. Entering the restaurant, it was virtually empty and we were seated. Fresh warm bread was brought out with room temperature butters, one of which was a delicious anchovy butter. Oh how I love anchovies.
To start, I couldn't resist the steak tartare (above), though I know of a friend who raves about the chicken liver parfait. I was hoping one of my parents would order the parfait so that I could snaffle some, but they went for the escargots. While my dish was amusingly presented, I really enjoyed this. With properly hand minced beef, I was able to regulate exactly how much egg yolk went in (just a touch) and how many capers, gherkins and shallots would season it (all of it). We were off to a good start.
After much lingering over the menu, I went for the oxtail ravioli with celeriac puree and chanterelles.
While the pasta wasn't as silky smooth and thin as the example I had at Le Querce, the filling was meaty and had a great depth of flavour. The chanterelles added a great earthy flavour and were cooked well. A comforting dish, though I'd have prefered a little less celeriac puree, and a bit more of the sauce to moisten it more.
Dad felt it was his duty to have the eponymous cassoulet. Unfortunately it was a little burnt on top - I think I would have complained, but Pops is terribly British. Nevertheless, he enjoyed it, especially as he found nuggets of duck hearts. Having procured myself a little taste the white beans were perfectly cooked and didn't melt into a mush, as it can sometimes too. Intensely flavoured with duck and pork, it was a real rib sticker. It's something I'd really like to recreate at home.
Mum's razor clams in a Calvados and parsley cream sauce was a generous portion. The meat was sweet and tender, the sauce deceptively light, making a great chip-dip. The frites served with this dish deserve a mention. They were wonderfully crunchy and salty, encasing a fluffy centre and were perhaps the best example that I've had this year - high praise, as I have munched rather a lot of frites.
Though I was pretty full by this point, I decided to to share the tarte tatin, with vanilla ice cream. Having been told it would be a 20 minute wait, we uncouthly popped out for a quick smoke and the time passed by pleasantly. The tarte was served at the table, and it really was the highlight of the meal. The apples were cooked so that they were soft enough to cut with a spoon, but not mushy. A light caramel sweetened the dish, while the flaky, buttery pastry was a thing of great beauty. I would return for this alone.
Throughout the meal, our server was sweet and unobtrusive. She seemed a little confused at times ("what does the dish come with, do I need any sides?" "Erm... do you want any sides?") but did her job well, especially as the restaurant filled up to bustling as the afternoon went on.
For a 3 course lunch from an extensive set menu at £20, this is excellent value. Yes, there were faults with the meal such as a slightly burnt cassoulet, escargots that needed more garlic, but nevertheless I thought there was good skill behind the dishes and it was great hearty fare. I will definitely be returning; there's chicken liver parfait and chateaubriand to be sampled. Another great local(ish) discovery.
18 Selsdon Road
Tel: 020 8633 1818