"It's not much but it's ours"

Monday, February 22, 2010


If you’ve eaten out regularly in London during the past twenty years then it’s very likely you will have had food prepared by a group of female chefs who have not had nearly enough of the recognition they deserve. Like The Wrecking Crew – those session musicians who in the Sixties played on just about every hit going – these chefs have quietly got on with the business of cooking and turning out the sort of food that you’d want to eat every day.

People like Carol Cradock who cooked at Bibendum and Vinoteca, Rosie Sykes who was at Alastair Little and ran her own restaurant – the much missed Sutton Arms in Smithfield. Another of this band was Trish Hilferty who cooked at the Eagle, the first gastropub and who also ran her own place, The Fox in Shoreditch where I used to go several times a week for my supper.

That was several years ago and apart from writing some books I didn’t know where her career had taken her. That was until I pitched up at the Canton Arms in Stockwell on Saturday, where she’s opening up this new Ale and Food House - I think it’s preferred description - with staff she worked with at the Anchor and Hope and Great Queen Street (I’m sure you’ve all heard of those gaffs).

The setup at the Canton Arms will be familiar to anybody who’s visited the A&H or the Magdalen Arms in Oxford. There’s a pub bit and there’s a restaurant bit although you could probably eat what you want where you want – it’s that sort of place. Apparently, the aim is to not alienate the locals with any of the sort of fancy-schmancy nonsense you’d get North of the river. This playing it quietly for now extends to the menu which is pretty short and supplemented by a few bars snacks with (hallelujah) no Scotch Eggs to be had (the backlash begins here).

Speaking of bar snacks, irrespective of what I was going to choose for the rest of my meal there was no way I wasn’t going to order some Foie Gras Toasties. I’ve no idea if they’re an original idea - although I’ve never seen them on a menu – but they’re certainly a brilliant way of using that Breville toaster gathering dust in the cupboard.

I haven’t had a toastie since, oh, 1982 but I’m sure they never tasted like this. Rich, but in the nicest possible way they’re best eaten when the liver within has had a chance to go a bit runny. By accident I spilt some red wine onto my plate and some soaked into one of the golden-hued triangles. If anything it tasted even better. I’m putting this up there with the discovery of Fire and the Wheel…and it’s all mine.

A Cassoulet for two was the stuff of dreams - for Trenchermen (and women) and Hermanos, natch. The beans had been cooked so they retained a little bite and hadn’t disintegrated into mush. There were hunks of good Belly Pork topped with strips of crisp crackling and legs of good-flavoured Duck Confit. A layer of breadcrumbs added extra crunch. Only some fat sausages underwhelmed a little and got lost in the mix.

There was some moisture too so that the dish made for easy eating although next time I’ll take up on the offer of a green salad on the side, a Cassoulet really cries out for something sharp and vinegar based.. I made do with a dab of Dijon mustard, some of homemade Chutney and a glass of Marcillac.

Unlike many Cassoulets this one wasn’t overrich so a pud wasn’t out of the question. A little Chocolate Pot hit the spot, as it so often does, and a glass of a nascent Damson Gin made for a pleasant digestif although it didn’t prevent me waddling towards Stockwell Tube in the manner of the quack-quacks I had just eaten.

Bread from Di Lieto bakery is very good and apart from a bit of over-enthusiastic pouring, service was relaxed and professional, a A&H trademark.

I think the location should mean the Canton Arms will be frequented mainly by locals and not chinless yuppy hordes from Fulham (I don’t think they’d be able to navigate their way to Stockwell anyway) which I believe is the hope of the owners. So if you’re in the area pop in have a pint and a toastie or better still a plate of Trish Hilferty’s food and enjoy yourselves. Just don’t expect to find a fully formed Anchor and Hope Mark 2. Yet.

PS When I visited the Canton Arms had been open for three days.

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Blogger josordoni said...

it's a looong way from home for me.. but... how close is it to the tube?

Monday, February 22, 2010 11:32:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

An easy waddle.

Monday, February 22, 2010 11:40:00 pm  
Blogger josordoni said...

Excellent news... we should waddle together we could pretend we are Tweedledee and Tweedledum..

Monday, February 22, 2010 11:46:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

Thanks, I already have a Tweedledum (HS).

Monday, February 22, 2010 11:50:00 pm  
Blogger Paunchos said...

Excellent stuff. Am going there for lunch today to try out their sandwiches.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 9:02:00 am  
Anonymous Gareth said...

Very interesting. Has obviously changed a lot since I was last there.

In fact, I was going to go there on Fridy but to watch Wales v France rather than eat. Don't suppose you spotted if the big screen was still there?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 9:02:00 am  
Blogger Chris Pople said...

Ooh this is but a short bus ride away from me. How exciting!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 9:57:00 am  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

There is still a TV in the pub bit.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 11:20:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bread is not from italo deli ,but from the Di Lieto bakery.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 11:27:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The foise grois toastie really was an interesting investment!
Going down now for a haggis toastie!!!!!!mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 12:31:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

Oops sorry will correct.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 1:19:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does crackling stay crisp when its been cooked in a cassoulet?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 4:19:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

Is this a trick question? In this case when it's not submerged under the beans. Next.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 4:55:00 pm  
Blogger Patrick said...

Had a very similar meal to you over the weekend but unfortunately didn't even see they did toasties. I thought the little chocolate pot was lovely too.

The people I was with had everything on the menu and the pork belly sandwich and the risotto were absolutely massive.

It is a nice place. I much preferred the Magdalen Arms but I'd like to revisit this place in a few months.

Josordoni: it's a few minutes walk from the tube.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 5:03:00 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

mmm, foie gras toastie, wish i lived closer...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 12:10:00 am  
Blogger Levantine said...

We neeeeeeed something like this in Stockwell! We're deeply flattered it's here, and we're going to make sure they get lots of support and patience because it's not easy. Still can't believe there are foie gras toasties in Lambeth!!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 10:41:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HP; offered it on a plate by a gorgeous redhead....are you unwell?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 12:06:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

I know, sick isn't it?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 2:15:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a HUGE fan of Great Queen Street, and can't wait to check out Canton Arms!

Hope to see you soon!

x Caitlin

Friday, February 26, 2010 11:05:00 am  
Blogger Douglas Blyde said...

Please don't take this in any way as a criticism - but it would be easier to read this and the Loubet post if the text could start after the pictures rather than skinny-up alongside. Thanks!

Saturday, February 27, 2010 8:28:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

I don't know. I rather prefer HP's style where the text wraps around the pictures. Mine always sits underneath and looks a bit flat. We get complaints about both, so we just can't win

Saturday, February 27, 2010 8:43:00 pm  
Blogger The Pub Diaries said...

Can report that the local crowd is there in strength. Been about 4 times in the last couple of weeks, with locals (only living a couple of miles away myself), and it's busier each time... Though give the yuppy horde time to set the SatNav on the Prius.

Hopefully won't become a A&H mark II, as I think its charm at the moment is that it is a proper pub as well. As much as I love A&H the last time I went solely for a drink that had to be had outside.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 5:30:00 am  
Blogger bron said...

The food is very good, and the beer also. Sad to say the chinless brigade have worked out how to get there and now clutter the place with their outside voices and nasty little children. Why can childen not be banned from pubs?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 10:21:00 am  

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