Le Cassoulet closed its doors in August 2012. A shame as this is not an area exactly overrun with good restaurants.
This restaurant is the sister of Vacherin in Chiswick. It opened just a couple of weeks ago and yet was already fully booked the evening of our visit. The successful Vacherin formula has sensibly been repeated, with a cosy, warm interior. There is banquette seating on one side of the dining room, with red striped velour upholstery, the walls partly painted plum colour and partly with flowery wallpaper, adorned with a few prints. Lighting is good, with side lamps as well as overhead spots. The wooden floor did not make the dining room too noisy, though the piped music which appeared later in the evening seemed unnecessary to me.
The menu was firmly French bistro: onion soup, boeuf bourguignonne etc. Starters were mostly in the £6 - £10 range, main courses £12.50 - £18, vegetables extra at around £3 each. Desserts were £4.95 - £7. There was a cheaper lunch menu available. The wine list was entirely French and has plenty of tolerably priced options, with plenty of choices in the £20 - £30 range, and some good choices such as the excellent Mas de Daumas Gassac. Bread was supplied by Maison Blanc and was simple white or brown, fresh and pleasant (13/20). A series of nibbles arrived as we sat down: green olives, croutons, crudités, tasty parsnip crisps and a little pot of rather thick rouille; all very pleasant.
A starter of tart of shallot and goat cheese had crisp pastry and good cheesy taste, with leaves that in this case perhaps did not need the dressing given the taste of the tart (13/20). My scallops were excellent, plump and sweet, lightly seared, served with good Alsace bacon, crumbly black pudding and a few salad leaves. The scallops themselves were 15/20 level. An intermediate course of seabream bourride, squid, mussels and aioli had very nicely cooked bream resting with the shellfish in a bed of fish soup that had a slightly oily surface and squid that did not avoid the chewiness that always seems to afflict squid in the UK (12/20 for the dish, 14/20 for the fish itself).
I tried cassoulet, served here in a pot on the side. This had tender haricot beans and a mix of pork and duck pieces. I have particularly fond memories of a beautiful cassoulet that Albert Roux made many (many) years ago, and though this was perhaps inevitably not quite up to this, it was a capable enough rendition, with a nice smoky taste (13/20). Whole grilled lemon sole was correctly cooked, served with tartare sauce. I find lemon sole a rather dull tasting fish, but at bistro prices it us understandable that this is served rather than the much better, but much costlier, Dover sole (12/20).
Chips were thin and crispy (14/20) while a dauphinoise made with Vacherin cheese had excellent texture, but I prefer the subtler taste of Comte in this dish (13/20). A tart tatin had reasonable pastry and was made with Braeburn apples, but was rather over-caramelised (12/20). It was served with excellent vanilla ice cream made using Madagascar vanilla pods (16/20).
Service was capable and pleasant, and Malcolm John is an amiable host. Overall this was a very enjoyable meal, and in the culinary tundra that is Croydon Le Cassoulet stands out a mile. Though there were some small slips (the overcooked tatin, the rather oily bourride) once the kitchen settles down there is no reason why this should not get to a higher level of cooking.