Jon and I eat out often with friends, but we try to set aside Friday nights as “date night” to make sure we get some alone time. Continuing with my French kick, last week’s date night destination was Le Cassoulet in South Croydon, and we certainly had lots of bonding time getting there and back.
You’d think that having returned from Paris recently that we’d be French fooded out, but you’d be wrong. Now that darkness comes at 4 pm, a hearty cassoulet is just the thing to make me happy.
In Time Out‘s 2008 Eating and Drinking Awards, Le Cassoulet won the title of Best Local Restaurant, which, now that I’ve been there, seems to mean that the food, decor, service and prices are excellent, but it’s just such a schlepp to get there that it’s not a destination restaurant. It’s a 30-minute train ride from London Bridge station to South Croydon, and then a 5-minute walk to the restaurant, which doesn’t sound bad until you factor in having to look up train times, get to the train station, buy tickets, wait for the train, etc. [Yes, I'm a center-city brat who will never live in the 'burbs if I can help it.]
We sat down on cushy banquette seats and eyed our neighbors’ dishes. Portions looked big, so we shared a starter – potted ham hock (£6). It didn’t have the creamy pate-style texture I was craving, but the deep-pink ham bits were salty and meaty, so I was happy. The dijon-dressed gherkins and radishes added color, texture and tang. The only thing missing was an extra slice of toast.
The cassoulet was super star thanks to the white beans, which were creamy and fork-tender without having turned into mush. And of course they absorbed all the meaty juices from the generous duck confit shreds, garlicky sausage and rich pork-belly pieces. A vegetarian nightmare, but my dream come true on a winter’s night.
And what self-respecting bistro would fail to offer a steak frites? Le Cassoulet’s rib eye was rare and dripping with meat juice. Well-marbled and no gristly bits. I haven’t had a better steak in London. Certainly not for less for £18.
I had a great time at Le Cassoulet. The food was classic and comforting, and many wines were available by the glass or carafe. Service was attentive and friendly, and tap water was no problem. If Le Cassoulet were in central London, I’d be planning to eat there every day. But because it’s in South Croydon, I’ll probably go there only when seized by a powerful craving for top-notch cassoulet. Of course if someone has ideas on what else to do in South Croydon, I’m all ears.
Most appetizers were £6-8, and mains were £15-18. Our tab with a carafe of wine and a forgettable side dish came to £70.
Le Cassoulet, 18 Selsdon Road, Croydon, Surrey, CR2 6PA; 020 8633 1818; closest rail station: South Croydon