Le Cassoulet, 18 Selsdon Road, South Croydon, Surrey

Are the residents of south London ready to swap their Indian takeaways for 'proper' French bistro fare?

As I walk down Selsdon Road, Croydon, peering in through the windows at families curled up on comfy couches watching television, I ponder the wisdom of opening a grown-up French restaurant in the area. Not because everyone is staying at home and cooking, but because everyone is curled up on comfy couches watching telly in their local Indian takeaway, waiting for their beef vindaloo to be handed over.

Malcolm John, chef/patron of the newly opened Le Cassoulet, hopes that Croydon is also waiting for its chance to dress up, drink Minervois and eat foie gras, escargot and 28-day-aged Chateaubriand. It is a long way from Chiswick, where, for the past four years he has run the popular French bistro Le Vacherin, but Croydon could well be the new Chiswick. There are plans afoot to transform it into a city of the future, complete with reclaimed waterways, hanging gardens and skyparks. And French restaurants, it seems.

Le Cassoulet looks great from the street, with its vivid burgundy colours, velvet-backed chairs, paper-over-cloth tables, striped banquettes, and black-clad staff in long white aprons going hither and thither. Once in, bread and menus are brought immediately, orders taken. It's half full on this Friday evening, with a mix including two mums-to-be hoovering up puddings, a former county cricketer and his date, and a father and son bonding over steak frites.

John, whose affinity with French bistro cooking harks back to his time with Herbert Berger at the Cafe Royal and a stint as head chef at St Quentin in Knightsbridge, has borrowed much of Le Vacherin's menu, listing Chateaubriand, steak tartare, baked vacherin and steak tartare. There is a distinct south-western accent as well, with the hero being the hearty pork, duck and bean stew for which the restaurant is named.

I find it physically and mentally impossible to see cassoulet on a menu and not order it, in spite of dim memories of Le Vacherin's version being undersauced and oily. It comes to the table in its own little lidded pot, complete with regulation crusty top, and a good mix of tender white beans, smoky sausage, shreddy, fall-apart duck, wibbly-wobbly pork confit and even bits of confit duck gizzard for good measure. Flavours meld and mix like the old friends they are; and the whole thing is a cassoulet-lover's bargain for £15. In the spirit of symbiosis, I choose a wine from the special list from south-west France and get a 2004 Domaine Berthomieu Madiran (£29) that is chunky, tannic, hard-working.

There is food other than cassoulet, of course. Sorry. A little glass preserving jar holds a shreddy, full-flavoured, potted ham hock (£6), and mussels bathed in a light, creamy broth (£5.95) have been properly plucked from the pot the second they opened, preserving their satiny texture. A smartly-put-together bourride of bream, squid and mussels (£12.50) comes with creamy rouille, but without the mussels or any depth of flavour; a small green salad shows a fear of vinegar; and a dessert of ile flottante is suitably light and sweet (£5.50), showing up the cloying custard.

The cheese course is an absolute highlight. Brought to the table on a wicker tray, it features whole, expertly kept cheeses, served generously - really generously - and with real knowledge. Comte is fast becoming my favourite cheese, and this one is as sweet and nutty as you would wish. Livarot is not too gamey, and the gooey spoonful of late-season vacherin is like clotted cream with the kick of a cow.

Le Cassoulet has not yet relaxed into itself, and the kitchen is perhaps too efficient in sending out food, but it's a nicely old-fashioned, "proper" French restaurant in an area that needs a bit of a leg-up. It has the potential to be the perfect neighbourhood restaurant; just as Croydon has the potential to be the perfect neighbourhood.

14/20

Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets

Le Cassoulet, 18 Selsdon Road, South Croydon, Surrey, tel: 020 8633 1818. Lunch and dinner daily. Around £85 for two

Read Terry Durack's new column at independent.co.uk/eat

Second helpings: More cassoulets to crave

French Living

27 King Street, Nottingham, tel: 0115 958 5885

This cellar bistro currently serves up a cassoulet Toulousaine with white beans, duck confit, Toulouse sausage, smoked belly pork and salt pork shoulder

La Garrigue

31 Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 557 3032

Regulars of this friendly restaurant keep coming back for le cassoulet comme à Castelnaudary, with its three different types of confit: pork, lamb and duck

Comptoir Gascon

6 1-63 Charterhouse Street, London EC1, tel: 020 7608 0851

This comfy bistro specialises in the gutsy cooking of south-west France, which means salade Landaise, Gascon pie and, of course, cassoulet Toulousaine

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
News
people
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced