Christian Huhnt reports on recent changes at Cassis restaurant
As I work in the arts and also collect wines, I find Cassis Bistro in South Kensington most comfortable as here I find myself surrounded by great works by Julian Opie, Gary Hume and Henri Matisse alongside as a humongous and well-stocked wine rack at the back of the restaurant. Cassis is part of Marlon Abela’s restaurant group, Marc, which also includes The Greenhouse, Umu, Morello Bistro and Morton’s.
It was with anticipation, therefore, that I accepted an invitation to celebrate the arrival of Cassis’s new head chef, “le nouveau moteur de cuisine,” Massimiliano Blasone. Wait a minute: “Blasone”? That doesn’t sound to French to me. And indeed, he isn’t. This Italian chef made his name at Heinz Beck’s Michelin-starred Apsleys at The Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park Corner.
The first thing that I asked myself was: “What is an Italian chef doing in a French kitchen?” More importantly: “What is an Italian chef doing in a restaurant that has made its goal,” according to their own marketing material, “to deliver: The finest Provençal cuisine in London?”
After consulting the restaurant’s PR she told me the new idea is to “cook Provençal cuisine with an Italian influence.” What the heck? Why not add a Nigerian limbo dancer making sushi or a Muslim serving pork pies?
Continuing, she told me that the former chef had left as he’d decided to open his own restaurant. I recall once having a delightful lunch when that particular chef was still at Cassis, roughly one year ago, and remember how tasteful and typically Provençal it actually was.
Starting, as ever, with the drinks, I let the waiter choose my first one. He gave me a “Cassis Collins” which is supposedly the house cocktail. A mix of gin, crème de cassis soda, blackcurrant purée and lemon juice. Sadly, I could only really taste the lemon and overall it was too watery. It tasted as if it had been mixed 30-minutes prior to my arrival.
I quickly changed to an Italian classic, a Negroni, which was strong but cool. This was far more impressive. Steffen Timm, my companion and food connoisseur, went for a non-alcoholic cocktail with the notion to spare his palate for tasting the food later on, but while sipping at it he almost got a sugar shock and therefore turned to the booze too.
While sat at the bar, I found myself surrounded by some delightful locals and regulars. Things were most definitely on the up. After nibbling one grissini after another, finally the food arrived, but it came at such a speed that I struggled to keep up. Not even finished with a typically Italian dish of tagliatelle con tartufo bianco, the kind waiter offered me some superb raw tuna served in a Middle East Asian style with bulgur. Having barely swallowed this, the next dishes presented to me were a pumpkin tortellini with truffles, followed by oysters with sour cream and cucumber. Quail’s eggs with truffles, a lamb saddle with ratatouille (which was probably the only ‘kind-of-Provençal’ canapé) and finally some perfectly made risotto with yet more truffles brought things to a crescendo. My love affair with truffles is well known and some readers may recall my sharing that with you in my review of Honky Tonk. I must say, however, that this particular dish was more reminiscent of something that one might find in a chic restaurant in St Tropez than in the Provençal settings I am used to.
Although Cassis is delightful and I enjoyed an evening of conversation and company, sadly, this new kitchen seems to have lost its ethos and now lacks the authentic Provençal character that made it so good. I urge the management to return to the quintessentially rustic and traditional roots that first made the place so appealing.
Cassis Bistro, 232 – 236 Brompton Road, London, SW3 2BB. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7581 1101. Website: http://www.cassisbistro.co.uk