Nov 212015

Fay Maschler reviews Casa Cruz

A nattily dressed doorman complete with bowler hat standing by a high and mighty gleaming copper restaurant door not far from the Lancaster West estate and Silchester social housing project in Notting Hill is an incongruous sight. We are approaching Casa Cruz, the conversion of a pub that has seen perhaps too many businesses come and go including, in the late Nineties, Wiz from Antony Worrall Thompson.

Woz, as I know him, fancies himself a bit of an interior designer but he is primarily a very accomplished chef. In his prelapsarian existence he was awarded Meuilleur Ouvrier de Grande Bretagne in an extremely tough professional cooking competition judged anonymously.

Juan Santa Cruz, a South American investment banker turned entrepreneur, designer and developer, includes restaurants in his portfolio. In Buenos Aires he has launched three dining establishments including the first Casa Cruz.

Sitting in the flattering glow from backlit horizontal copper panels in the ground floor dining area adjacent to a copper bar and discussing the “copper” on the door, it dawns on us that all the assemblies in the first course are either raw or cold. In the main course the six fish and meat dishes three of each are seared, roasted or grilled probably courtesy of a Josper oven. In the comprehensive press release there is no mention of a chef. This could be one of the first high end venues run by an AI kitchen operative.

To accompany pre dinner drinks cocktails are a thing here, with a cool barman grooving and shaking at the copper bar we order from the sheet entitled Para Picar (loosely translates as snacks or nibbles) six soft boiled quails’ eggs with salts [sic], crudits with a horseradish dip and a circular tower of brioche strafed with caramelised onion and topped with a lump of melting butter.

Straightforward: tomatoes in salt, pepper and a drizzle of oil at Casa Cruz

I use the time to rule out certain choices. “No one can have rocket salad + parmesan + grapefruit + hazelnuts (menu graphics) for 9. And charred beetroots + horseradish for 9.50 is another no no.” Just think of those profit margins. It’s enough to make you swoon in the coppery haze.

“It’s ceviche for the girls, steak for the guys,” says one of my chums, crisply summing up both the ethos and the list, and he is vindicated by orders of raw wild bass + cucumber + lime + rapeseed oil; raw tuna + avocado + wasabi + spiced crunch; steak tartare + seeds + melba toast and for a renegade chap globe artichoke + mustard vinaigrette. The raw materials seem good quality but seasoning is either insipid or over emphatic (salty). Kate thinks a hint of coconut is channelling sun tan lotion on the tuna. Hawaiian Tropic?

It is possible and practical to serve a globe artichoke with the hairy centre scooped out so that the heart can be easily enjoyed. It is only polite to do that when you are charging 11. With an untrimmed vegetable the plate ends up a mess of furry blonde thistles slightly reminiscent of Boris Johnson.

We look around (in vain) for his Notting Hill dwelling sister Rachel, as the protagonists of her book Fresh Hell are the perfect punters for Casa Cruz. While a cinema, spa and gym upset the water table deep down beneath their homes, they can dally with quinoa + grilled vegetables + seeds, a side dish at 7.

Vegetable dishes priced between 5 (green leaves) and 8 (charred broccoli and also pured corn) are a necessary adjunct to the unadorned lumps of protein weighing 200g 380g and costing between 20 and 30. Spicy creamed corn is rather blissful brave baby food. Charred broccoli looking like something rescued from a house fire is overwhelmed by a drape, a sort of throw, of red chillies. Chopped cauliflower + aged parmesan is like cauliflower cheese that has been buried and quite some time later exhumed.

I can get this style of food aimed at the kind of people who enjoy the social and easeful aspect of restaurants but don’t want to be bothered too much by the troublesome eating part. What is harder to swallow is the no carb or low carb approach scuppered by butter soaked bread and “sinful” desserts. Here chocolate gteau is accompanied by dulce de leche (reduced sweetened or condensed milk) or dulce de leche can be enjoyed as ice cream. There is something tawdry and unsettling about abnegation followed by unbridled indulgence. Melon + white peach + pineapple + berries is presented by the waiter as “your fruit salad”, which is exactly what it is.

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Staff at Casa Cruz could not be more amiable or obliging. The high design interior spreads to a spacious terrace on the first floor and to loos downstairs which take their inspiration from a hall of mirrors, that trope used to menacing effect in various movies. The film of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes springs to mind. Dinner Tues Sat 7pm 12.30am. (Open for lunch from September 15). A meal for two with wine, about 190 including 12.5 per cent service.

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