3 weeks ago
When blue and white stripes adorn the outside of a French restaurant in London we breathe a collective sigh of déjà vu and move on to a trendy little Sri Lanken joint in Soho. But Bon Vivant, with its Tom Dixon meets Riding House interiors, stunning hearty food and relaxed good time vibes had me at bonjour.
I like the layout, a small enough room to accommodate a bunch of young dates and a couple of tables of boozy friends. More importantly, I like the food, by Head Chef Oliver Kuehler (formerly at Les Deux Salons). On a Monday night, it’s the sort of place you plan to meet for a quick feed and before you know it you’re three courses and a bottle deep. Not scenery, not a cringes local couples joint, just a great feeding in a beautiful spot.
The menu is short and to the point, reducing the awkward amount of time you spend scanning in silence. Classic fare accompanied by a great wine list. We balanced a rich foie gras starter (with quince cacao, and sauternes jelly) and very moreish brioche, with a big pot of mussels, equipped with a garlic baguette to soak up the crème and booze. For mains, the plaice with samphire and chorizo was sensational and the stuffed chicken with butternut squash a feel good, lip smacker. Add a side of dauphinois to fatten things up. Drink wines by the glass to match the food and end with an espresso martini.
While I’ve no doubt the place is full on a weekend, it makes for a thoroughly charming Monday/Tuesday date. Head there straight after work. Be playfully strict when you sit down with your date: “Just two small glasses of white for us”. Watch the stress of Monday melt away with the first morsel of whipped pate and capitulate to a second medium glass of red 20 minutes later. Hold hands for seconds before the mains arrive, then snap out of it. Marvel at “what a little find this is” and greedily eye up the bigger round tables for a group trip. Joke about making this “our place” and slap yourself on the back for being that couple who are the last to leave as staff pack away. Leave tipsy and full, perhaps not quite sure if Bon Vivant just forced you into more commitment than you were ready for.
You know it should be a little more full, but kinda don’t want it to be.
A surprising 5/5 to BV, now a solid component of your dating game.
3 years ago
This place is adorkable. On a street full of widely applauded restaurants – from Jose Pizzaro’s tapas bar to the damn near perfect Zucca – Casse Croûte managed to bustle its way into Bermondsey, all diminutive proportions and solitary chalked menu, and make a gigantic impression. Enter the tiny restaurant, pushing through a split door that broader people may need to enter sideways, and you’re greeted by rather handsome Frenchmen, shabby chic, beardy and accented. Accost the kitchen helper by accident and you’ll be forced to pull out your crumbly French to be understood. Pull that off and you’re seated at a table with your name reservation scrawled in marker, and immediately offered drinks. The two person tables are so close together that you have to decide whether you want to lean over neighbours’ food as you slide through, or jiggle their water jug with your ass as you pass. Either way, it makes for very friendly dining indeed and, vitally, allows you to ogle the food before you order. Like the tourist in town, it is wholly permissible to just point at your neighbour’s plate and say ‘we’d like that one’. Twenty minutes into your date, it will be impossible to imagine you’re in London, let alone hip-to-be-square Bermondsey. It’s pure Paris, scrap that, tiny village in Toulouse, and you’ll love it.
Can I get an orange juice to sooth my beating head, please? Take an Orangina, Madame. My God it’s like a holiday; I think I bloody will. The menus on the table only advertise drinks so, after this fruity nonsense, you had better get stuck in. Since everything feels so celebratory here, go for one of ‘Les Petillants’ (dry sparkling white wines), poured into those terribly bijoux, shallow, bowl-like champagne glasses, famously modeled on Marie Antoinette’s breasts. At Casse-Croûte the menu veers between reasonable, with some mains around £15, and slightly out there, with a sharing plate of beef at £69. However, they undercut any murmurs of dissent with insanely expert cooking, down to the buttery gratin sides, as well as lots of free sparkling water. Classy. Accompany your drinks at the start of the meal with a plate of thinly sliced charcuterie and then pick from four main courses, all rich, meaty and covered in excellent sauces. The most envy inducing is bound to be the pricey filet de boeuf, piles and piles of rare and tender steak for the table to share, with peppercorn sauce and gratin dauphinoise. For two people, you can downgrade to the £59 plate and you’ll have more than enough to fill yourself. Start simple and next visit you can take down other delights like the tender pork and mash. Finish with a light and puffy dessert.
Romantic cliché dictates that you visit this place on a very rainy day, either a stormy Friday night or a grey and drizzly Sunday. Meet your date there and arrive 15 minutes early to dry off, catch japes with the manager and ask for a quick menu translation. Watch your date arrive a little damp and frazzled, stand to attention, offer to take their coat and present them immediately with a poured glass of fizz. They’ll settle down sharpish. Go in strong with some old school flattery, joking about their charming flush or immediately zoning in on an attractive item of clothing. Make contact within ten minutes, swiping their hand playfully from the bottle with a ‘no, please, let me’. Smile a lot, whimsically order the big don of dishes and get back to the flirt. Don’t get too drunk as, even on a cold day, it gets a little warm in here. The food will take a while to arrive, which gives you plenty of time to relax before you have to masticate meat in front of each other. When it does, gobble up enthusiastically, chat with your mouth fit to burst and imagine this is your first minibreak. Then leave while it’s still raining, huddle under your umbrella and walk them to London Bridge station where you’ll part. If this goes well, you’ll be returning together very soon.
3. It’s higher on the charm factor but this will make impression enough to guarantee at least a second date.