A recession throws up all sorts of hubris, and for some reason, in spite of the well documented riskiness, a plethora of restaurant start ups. In London, there have been so many new openings in the last 3 years, it is indigestion-inducing just to keep up visiting them all. Why should this be? And is this a new breed apart from those of a few years ago?
I opened my first major restaurant at the end of the cash-strapped 1970s, but was too young to know what a recession was. It flourished throughout the painfully controlled Thatcher 80s. Perhaps the key was that it was different to what was already out there. There was lots of wood, exposed aluminium ducting on the ceiling and scaffolding with blackboards suspended. I can’t recall precisely where all these ideas came from, but there was certainly an element of recycling and economy involved. But I can remember the cost of the fit out, which included restoring a 2000sq ft premises which had been destroyed by fire. It was £20,000.
Spending large amounts of money on refurbishment is one thing that has been curbed in the last few years. Investors are just not prepared to finance several hundred thousand pounds of fit out, so the look has changed and become pared down. Caravan in Exmouth Market, Ducksoup in Soho and Russell Norman’s Polpo empire, are all examples of this trend. Customers react accordingly: dress down and drop in at any time of the day for a small plate of this and that.
10 Cases in Covent Garden is a tidier example of this style, and provides what it says on the tin. It is a place where the food menu plays second fiddle to the wine list all items of which are interesting and restricted to 10 red and 10 white (or rose), expertly handwritten and all available by the glass, 1/2 litre and bottle. A welcome change from the indifferent usual offerings by the glass.
The decor is a classy navy blue, grey and white, with a black and white tiled floor, and on my visit at a sunny Saturday lunchtime, the whole of the front was opened out on to the pavement. All carefully put together with a Parisian aesthetic, with subtly padded classic bentwood chairs to encourage long comfortable drinking sessions.
The menu is written in the current blunt no frills style on blackboards mounted here and there on the restaurant walls. Some quite heftily priced main dishes like Sole or Beef Fillet with foie gras, both at £19 would bump the bill up quite a bit, and I question whether the kitchdn warrants that kind of food spend. My brown crab starter had a rather too refined a texture for my taste, but the goats’ cheese salad at £9.50, fell way short, with some less than fresh salad leaves. My companion’s smoked anchovies came unadulterated in their tin at £10, and were delicious, so no complaints there. Nor about the 2010 English wine from 3 Choirs Vineyard, a bargain at £4.50 for a glass.
For all the minor gripes, I really liked the place, the friendly staff, and would definitely return. My tidy mind likes the organised clarity of the way it portrays itself. You know exactly what it is about, and the table in the downstairs cellar looks welcoming for wine tastings or groups of friends to share the enthusiasm of the owners for the wine they serve.
The 10 Cases
16 Endell Street
London WC2H 9BD
Tel| 020 7836 6801