This Bermondsey bistro, which opened in July 2013, has Sylvain Soulard in charge of its kitchen. Mr Soulard was previously head chef at Morgan M, that most French of London restaurants. It is therefore not surprising that Casse Croute is as Gallic as they come. The place is tiny, with a row of tables opposite the bar, which has a few stools where people can also eat. A rather nice welcoming touch was that the name of the diner booking had been written on each paper tablecloth. The hard floor and packed tables means that noise levels were quite high. Assorted framed photographs adorn the walls, with a model of Bibendum, the Michelin man, over the bar.
The short menu, written on a blackboard, offered with just three choices at each stage of the lunch, plus charcuterie. Starters were priced from £8 to £8.50, main courses £13.50 to £14.50, desserts £4.50, so Casse Croute could not be accused of having excessively high prices.
The all-French wine list had less than two dozen offerings, ranging in price from £18 to £39. Selections included Château Marjolet Côte du Rhône 2012 at £24 for a wine that you can find in the high street for just a fiver, Andre Kintzler Gewurtztraminer 2011 at £33 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £19, and Chateau de Boursault NV at £39 for champagne that retails at around £18.
A salad with a tart of mushrooms and bone marrow on toast was very pleasant, the leaves fresh and properly dressed (13/20). A savoury Comte soufflé had risen well enough, but lacked enough cheese flavour, and also sufficient seasoning (13/20). Sardines with carrots and more salad leaves were good, the dressing balancing the natural oiliness of the fish (14/20).
Duck Parmentier had a layer of mash covering minced duck; the mash was reasonably rich, the duck rather under-seasoned to my taste (12/20). I preferred carefully pan-fried bream with crisp skin and a good tapenade that was reasonably restrained (14/20). Best of all was chicken, black-footed chicken from Landes that had very good flavour and was accurately cooked; most chicken in England has virtually no taste, but this good quality bird had proper flavour (15/20).
For dessert, choux cream was quite rich but enjoyable (13/20). Apple tart had decent pastry but the apple lacked acidity. This is one case where English apples have an advantage over French ones, in my view (12/20). Best was a caramel dessert, with a good caramel tuile (14/20). To follow, coffee was excellent, from a small southeast London supplier called Volcano Coffee Works.
Service was charming, the waitress very friendly, dishes arriving at a steady pace. The bill, with a little wine, came to £38 a head before tip. Overall I really liked Casse Croute – it is the sort of romantic ideal of a Parisian bistro that sadly so rarely appears in reality, even in Paris. It was packed out for a weekday lunch and so clearly has a successful formula.