September 18, 2010 by bethanjthomas
I love restaurant reviews. They offer a delicious opportunity to have a complete gastronomic experience without putting a morsel in your mouth. The witty one liners and a cynical commentary that accompanies them could never be offered in real time, often meaning that you can only be disappointed when visiting somewhere highly recommended.
And so it was with a little apprehension that I clambered into my boss’ car for a Friday afternoon pub lunch recommended by Jay Rayner. The aggressively quick talking critic had talked with aplomb about the rustic delights and foie gras toasties available at the Canton Arms in Stockwell (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/mar/14/jay-rayner-canton-arms-restaurant-stockwell). Given that the area is only famous for the tragic shooting of Jean Charles de Menzes, I was presuming that the food would be out of this world to make up for the undesirable postcode.
And I wasn’t disappointed, although I probably shouldn’t have been shocked as I am almost certainly easier to please than Mr. Rayner. The unusually small menu offered us a choice of 3 starters, 4 mains and 2 desserts. This was slightly unnerving at first glance as I had no idea what gribiche was and if I’d like it with a duck egg, but an outstanding waiter in dirty chef’s whites helped answer all our questions with panache. Soon our table of six had ordered virtually everything on offer (except the foie gras toastie).
Our starters came within minutes, six plates of fish, eggs and fish eggs. First was the duck egg that had intimidated me too much to be ordered. For the uninitiated, gribiche is a mayonnaise style sauce with mustard, pickles, capers, taragon, parsley and chervil. For the still uninitiated like myself, chervil is very similar to parsley. Apparently it was divine, but I had opted for a heart warming, and easy to understand, fish soup.
Although, I had been flummoxed as to what a ‘rouille’ was when ordering I had faith that soup couldn’t be too unusual for me. Meaning ‘rust’, rouille was anything but rusty upon arrival. The enormous crouton in my bowl was covered in a thick paste which upon research apparently consisted of olive oil, breadcrumbs, saffron, chilli and garlic. It was cold in stark contrast to the piping hot liquid, but as it became warm it silkily blended with the soup, adding a richness to it that was delicious. Crusty bread simply added to the feast.
The last starter on the menu that reached our table was smoked cod’s roe. Wendy had ordered the dish as she’d never tried roe before, and this was her last supper in England before returning home to Taiwan so she was feeling adventurous. Whilst she finished the platter off, its smoked flavour was a little bit too strong for her taste and I felt happy with my choice. Whilst my fish soup was extremely rich and filling, but it had just whet my appetite, for the generous main courses that arrived.
I’d always imagined that tongue would be tough, I’m not sure why, but I had envisioned chewy grey slathers of meat and had therefore avoided it when ordering. However, the meat that topped a bed of beans turned out to be bright pink, tender and delicious. It interestingly had the slight thickness of offal to it, with the texture reminding me slightly of liver. The white beans actually stole the show from the tongue though, and were actually cocoa beans with a sage based sauce. They caused huge waves at our table.
The ‘tonnata’ had been another unknown name to me on the menu (this meal really showed me up as pretty ignorant all round!). It is traditionally a tuna mayonnaise sauce that is served on pasta or on roast meats. The Canton Arms served their tonnata cold on hampshire ham, piled high with spinach. Accompanied with a bowl of hot chips, it was a meat-fest of epic proportions and certainly gave Ed and Felicity their full dose of iron for the day.
The second smoked fish dish on the menu was a unique version of rarebit that my Welsh grandmother would have been shocked and horrified by. It was a little too salted for my companion’s taste but the textures were a treat and a great change from the norm.
We come finally to my main meal. I’ve left it to the last simply as the photograph simply can’t do it justice. My risotto was incredible. The colour of chocolate with huge slices of mushroom throughout, it was warming and satisfying, making me understand exactly what Jay Rayner meant when he spoke of the rustic, solid foods on offer in this Stockwell boozer. Dipping in and out of everyone else’s plates, I was never disappointed to return to mine.
We didn’t choose either of the desserts, which consisted of cheese cake or damson ice cream. The only issue of such a restricted menu being that we all wanted chocolate but none was on offer.
Given that nothing on the menu cost more than a tenner, I’d highly recommend this pub to anyone willing to spend a night in Stockwell. It is certainly worth it for the food alone.