Mr. English and I spend a lot of time in Stockwell in London. For those of you who don’t know it, and I wouldn’t if it weren’t for Mr. English, it’s not the place that I would have necessarily expected to find fantastic food. You know what they say about English food. But last night, we went down to the local pub, where we’ve ordinarily just gone for beers, and sat down to a proper meal. When I tell you, it was one of the best meals I ever had in this country, and it was in the middle of gastro no man’s land! What a tremendous find. If you’re ever down south of the river, you have to try Canton Arms.
The ambiance is very dark wood, low key, British pub. The front room is full of intellectuals ruminating over pints and reading books in high-backed chairs. The wait staff is bright and young and cheerful, against the somber atmosphere, which makes me realize that I can’t remember if there was a fire going, or if it was them that made it feel so bright and cozy. Around the back of the bar is this large, quaint, wooden room, filled with a hodgepodge of different sized, very comfortable tables and chairs. Little votives in shot glasses winked and twinkled all over the dark room, giving it a starlight feel. Very modern meets old world. Very, I’ll say it again, cozy. Mr. English and I appropriated a corner table by the window, and looked at the menu. The beer and wine list is far more extensive than the dinner menu, but Mr. English tells me that the latter changes all the time, if not every day.
I was really surprised by the choices. Probably because I was unfairly biased against a gastropub in Stockwell to begin with, which is evidence that one should not be a place-ist eater. The starters included split pea and ham soup, braised cuttlefish with butter beans and olives, smoked salmon with what seemed to be house-pickled cucumbers, and a melange of beets with cow’s curd and rosemary and crisp bread crumbs resurrected from the excellent brown bread they served to start. I had the beets, a combination of carpaccio-thin white beets that I’d never seen before, and wedges of small golden and red beets. The beets, of course, were sweet, and lightly tossed in vinaigrette. On top was a white cloud of tart, creamy cow’s curd. And on top of that, extremely crisp and chunky wheat crumbs, and rosemary. It was so simple, and so good.
The mains included black bass with crab risotto and monk’s beard, pork belly, cassoulet, and gnocchi. When my gnocchi first arrived bubbling in a gratin dish, I had it inside out. I thought the little chunks around the perimeter were the gnocchi, and I asked Mr. English, “what’s this thing in the middle?” As it turns out, the thing in the middle was one giant, genius, rectangular, fluffy-as-air gnocchi, smothered in a cauldron of excellent tomato sauce studded with roasted squash and chard. The top of the gnocchi slab was gratined with Parmesan cheese–sort of a gnocchi parmesan, instead of chicken or eggplant. It was truly delicious.
To wash it all down, I had the cocktail of the day: rhubarb and prosecco. And for dessert, a lemon cream pot, topped with a shot of crème de cassis, and an English shortbread cookie.
I loved it because it was this cold, windy, brutal English night, in a part of London that can, in all honesty, appear bleak. There is a lot of grayness here. But what I love about the English is that in the grayscape about them, they create points of color. A whimsical hat perched at a bright angle like a tropical bird. A planter full of pansies down the street. Bright scarves and floral prints. And a gastropub that twinkled with votives in the night, and that served fresh, colorful, English food that cheered up the eyes, and filled up the stomach in that hearty-meets-frivolous English way. I love the pride they are taking in their cuisine right now, and especially in their ingredients. I left feeling warm.
So sorry I don’t have pictures of the food from last night. I tried, but the lighting made it impossible!