The tub of heads, skin, eyes, and ears is kept in the basement. The rest of the carcass hangs stiff and cold on a shiny metal hook, ready for slicing. Tongues, gizzards, and belly are in the freezer; once minced together, they graduate to the fridge. Upstairs, unsuspecting guests sit at Cadet’s long, elegant bar while soft music plays and wine is glugged into glasses and carafes, unaware of the gore below.
Making paté en croute is a messy business.
When diners cut into a slice of fragrant, thickly rich charcuterie, its subtleties rising from a whisper to a hubbub as it comes to temperature and a rum-steeped apricot winking out of the centre like a burning sun, they are cutting into George Jephson’s obsession. The charcutier, who makes architectural paté en croutes; verdant and wobbling jambon persille; and a mousse de canard that spreads like a face pack, is one third of Cadet — “Cad-ay”: the handsome wine bar that ebbs and flows above while the pigs, chickens, and ducks that go into his creations lay dormant below.
Open for a matter of weeks on Newington Green in north London, Cadet’s alliance of French charcuterie, cooking, and wine is not new. Chef Jamie Smart’s dishes, and Tom Beattie and Francis Roberts’s pours speak the language of not just the Parisian cave, but the mid-mountain hamlet of Chassignolles and its famous Auberge, which has become a kind of archangel for London chefs seeking to become fluent in this culinary vernacular of the French countryside, before translating it to the capital’s voice.
What feels different is how these wine bars and the people who work in them, all of whom have cut their teeth in leading, at times pioneering wine bars (P. Franco, Winemakers Club) and restaurants (St. John, Westerns Laundry, Bright, Flor) no longer feel the need to self-consciously differentiate from their inspirations, be they city or countryside.
As what were vanguards evolve into part of the furniture, and new openings like Cadet spring from them, it’s possible to witness the maturation of London’s wine scene in real time, as if cellared away like the bottles it lives and dies on.
There is no fear of accidentally pretending to be Paris nor the Auvergne, no attempting to be transportive in a way that pretends, for a few hours, its guests are not in the city they call home. There is no slippery slope into the shallow iconoclasm used as a cudgel by critics of natural wine; no need for lazy wedges to be driven between east London and the rest, nor P. Franco and St. John.
Maturing is realising that these places always had more in common than the years between them alluded. Cadet is a French wine bar on Newington Green. There is very good wine and charcuterie and simple food comprised of astutely sourced ingredients. London has room for this — wants this. People have room for this in their daily lives, rather than as an escape from reality or a special occasion. It is confident, it has no need for pyrotechnics, and it doesn’t need to claim to be more.
As the French may say, c’est bon.
Take a look around.
The croute makes its reappearance in an evening guise, but there’s much more coming out of Jamie Smart’s kitchen.