Thursday, 5 April 2012
The 10 Cases, Covent Garden
I knew I was going to like The 10 Cases, newish (but not actually that new; it has apparently been open nearly a year) wine bar and bistro in Covent Garden, the moment they served me my first drink. I knew this because, unlike some of the smartest joints in town that sell wine by the glass, when I ordered 125ml of Chardonnay the nice man behind the counter simply put a glass in front of me and poured what looked like the right amount straight out of the bottle. I don't know when the rest of town is going to cotton on to the fact that measuring out wine into metal cylinders looks amateurish and miserly (and with who knows what effect on the taste of the wine), but thank Bacchus for anywhere that treats their bar staff and their customers like adults.
The wine, a 2010 L'Ocre Rouge in case that means anything to you, was fantastic - salty and complex and very unlike your usual buttery Chardonnays. I'm making a special effort to mention it despite my obvious lack of expertise in this area because clearly a lot of trouble has gone into creating a very interesting (not to mention pretty affordable) list and with every single option also available by the glass, working your way through it is a hugely attractive option.
But the wine isn't the only thing to get excited about at 10 Cases. The food - advertised around the room on chalk boards, some crossed off even quite early in the evening, a measure of the popularity of this pretty little space - reads like a Francophile's dream. Words like foie gras and beef get multiple uses; the cheeseboard includes such superstars as Langres and St Marcellin; and an "Aperitif" section contains fully 9 different ways of snacking, including potted crab and roasted garlic. I started with a £4 order of saucisson, presented with crunchy mini gherkins which offset the silky fat of the pork very nicely.
Sometimes the only thing that separates a good restaurant from a great one is attention to detail. House bread, for example - I don't know if 10 Cases bake their own, but it certainly tasted that way, the sliced baguette being warm and crusty and soft and utterly irresistible, especially when topped with half a sachet of (soft and room temperature - take note Other Restaurants) President butter. You can get decent baguette in lots of places; bread like this is a rare treat.
For some reason I was expecting foie gras en cocotte to be a kind of foie gras Wellington, but I think I was getting mixed up with en croute. Anyway, what arrived was a little ceramic pot containing a generous slab of seared liver, topped with a poached egg. It's perhaps a dish that in lesser hands could have been a bit sickly, but we found the mix of rich meaty foie and silky yolk dangerously addictive - and a nice crust on the foie meant the textures didn't get muddied.
Bacon egg and pork cheek "salad" is my kind of "salad" - ie. one that is largely made up of massive bits of pig. The bacon was more akin to expensive pancetta, and had a superb flavour, as did the dark slab of pork cheek (hidden under all that bacon) which split apart into moist chunks under the slightest pressure from a spoon. A poached egg lubricated it all, and the odd crouton gave crunch. This huge bowl of food disappeared in frantic, hungry seconds.
On the one hand, trout, spinach and potatoes isn't an earth-shatteringly innovative dish but when the everyday is done as well as this, you can't really complain. The skin on the fish was crispy and greaseless, the potatoes soft and buttery, and the spinach smooth and well seasoned. If I'm going to nit pick I suppose the huge chunk of garlic butter on the top was overkill; it was so massive it didn't have a chance to melt and so remained stubbornly solid after the rest of the food was polished off. But a small portion of fried octopus (£4 and from the "Aperitif" menu but easily big enough for a starter) was just gorgeous - crunchy and soft in all the right places, and coated in a rich herby, buttery dressing.
So let's just consider what we have here. A friendly, attractive little spot in central London, serving interesting wines and great food, at reasonable prices (our bill came to £67 for two with plenty of vino) and with a smile. The wine bar/bistro concept is hardly new; I can think of a dozen similar places within walking distance, many of them very good. But there is something about The 10 Cases - passion? Spirit? Perhaps just good old fashioned attention to detail and a healthy desire to offer a good product - that sets it above the crowd. If you want this kind of thing, and unless you're a vegetarian I can't think of a single good reason why you wouldn't, there really isn't anywhere that does it much better. Well done 10 Cases. Very well done indeed.